Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French writer, aviator, and a unique philosopher. He served as a pilot in the French army, flew for commercial airline companies and also in leisure. He wrote in the air.
On one of his flights from Paris to Saigon in 1935, Antoine’s plane crashed in Sahara. He was stranded in the desert with his navigator. They were far away from habitation and only had a few fruits and a day’s supply of liquids.
Dehydrated in the arid Sahara, Antoine began to see mirages and hallucinated vividly. On the fourth day in the desert, a Bedouin found them and saved their lives with a native dehydration treatment.
Inspired by his experiences in the Sahara, Antoine published a children’s fable for adults called Le Petit Prince or the Little Prince in 1943. This book is not only one of the most favorite children’s books, but also one of the most popular philosophy books. It is the third most printed book after Bible and Gone With the Wind.
In this thin book of 128 pages, Antoine meets a child in the desert. The child was a Little Prince from another star, who had visited many other stars before visiting the earth and was perplexed by the men he met on those planets.
And then together with the Little Prince, Antoine looked at the world with a child’s mind.
Looking Beyond What Our Trained Minds Show Us
The narrator of the book or (for simplicity let me say) Antoine was frustrated with grown-ups in his childhood. Whenever he showed them the drawing of a boa constrictor and asked them if they were scared, they retorted, “Why would I be frightened by a hat?”
Antoine had drawn a boa constrictor swallowing an elephant, but people couldn’t see beyond what their eyes showed them.
To simplify the drawing, Antoine drew an elephant and then enveloped a boa constrictor around it.
When he showed this sketch to the adults, they asked him to keep aside his drawings and instead focus on geography, history, and mathematics. All the grownups asked him to pay attention to the matters of consequence. Antoine left painting and became a pilot.
In this game of survival, we focus only on making our life more comfortable while exploiting the free resources that nature presents to us. When we get what we want, we ignore the source of the thing of desire and the process involved in attaining it. Because the thing of desire — be it a job, money, fish — seems more valuable than the source — knowledge, time, natural resources.
We don’t even stop for a minute to think that our perception of what is valuable is created by others.
So while trying to make our life more comfortable, we end up doing the opposite. We strive to achieve more without being honest with the process. We stop thinking about maintaining a balance. Thus we forget to engage with the source playfully and ignore the process.
We want to get a job without learning the skill. To earn more and more, we sacrifice our family and relaxation time while we attend late-night meetings and calls that promise our promotion.
If your goal is just to clear the interview, would you thrill at solving a problem and give it the time it needs? Would you be able to spend time with your little daughter after your 1’o clock call?
While biasing towards “productive activities,” we push the joyful acts away.
Our trained mind sees the summit only. On the way up to the summit, it is scared to run behind the azure butterfly, or smell the fragrant rose, or sip from the freshwater spring, or think about stopping before the summit because the shade under a tamarind tree appears to be full of life and might bring us more joy than the top.
We see what we have been told to see. We believe what we have been asked to believe. We do what we have been told to do.
But if we try to look beyond what is shown to us — we would see the boa constrictor. We would find the leisure to read and relax and play with our family. We would climb that tree and pluck a tamarind pod or two.
We could still reach the summit while enjoying the hike up.
Also Read: 15 things we can care less about.
We Can Choose to Live A Good Life Rather Than Always Preparing for It
When Antoine was busy unscrewing an adamant bolt to fix his plane, Little Prince enquired Antoine if a sheep could eat a flower with thorns. Antoine grew impatient and told the Little Prince that he was busy dealing with matters of consequence.
The little one cried and shouted that how could a sheep eating a rose, his lovely rose that he had left behind on his star, not be a matter of importance. He asked that why just sitting and adding up numbers was a matter of consequence, as a businessman on another planet had told the little prince.
He failed to understand that why adults have forgotten the joy of simple activities such as painting, exploring, laughing, spending time with friends, playing around with animals, looking at butterflies, and why do they just think about matters of consequence — something that they think would lead them somewhere.
To understand this, we need to delve into the minds of these adults.
We build three-storied mansions to live in. But we seldom cook in the well-equipped, large kitchen. We never have the time. And we don’t care about the joy of cooking together.
We live on the top floor of an apartment complex. Though our west-facing hall windows open up to a large deep-blue lake, we seldom open them to watch the golden sunset as the orange sun descends; We are in conference calls at the office.
We buy expensive books and arrange them at our bedside. But we never seem to find the time to read them or even dust them off.
When we are in standard two, our parents ask us to recite Tagore’s poetry in front of the guests proudly. But when we say we want to write, they don’t appreciate the thought because we might not earn a lot of money.
They say you shouldn’t go astray. Focus on what you have to do. Focus on the things of consequence — which promise to bring upon a rich and comfortable life.
But what about living that day?
Isn’t the joy that you feel while writing or cooking or reading or just sitting make the activity worth doing?
While growing up, we are made to believe in a race to the summit. So by the time we grow up, we forget about the now and today while securing the tomorrow. But as children don’t actively plan for a tomorrow, they engage with the present better than we do.
But we can be children again and ask ourselves the right questions rather than following the principles that have been fed to us— Why should I work my ass off and increase my bank balance when I won’t need that much money ever? What do I want to do at this moment? Am I really short of time or it is up to me how I want to use it?
We can make well-thought and informed choices and live well now rather than always preparing for a good life.
Related Read: Let your life flow freely, she knows her course better than you.
We Are Who We Are Because Of The People Around Us
The Little Prince stumbled upon a fox who asked him to tame him. The Little Prince asked the fox that why should he tame him?
The fox said, “so that they could become unique for each other.” The boy was one amongst the many men for the fox, and the fox was one amongst the many foxes for the boy. But if the little prince tamed the fox, they would be special for each other for the time they had spent together.
Each one of us is the center of his or her universe; we are each a tiny planet in ourselves. But we are only specks on the bigger picture of this world, and we all in combination complete the picture.
We forget about our petiteness and volatility often and focus on ourselves while ignoring the millions of tiny planets rotating on their axes around us.
We are Jack or Ashwin or Rahul or Sagar or Angelica or Antonio or Larry or Mark because other people recognize us with these names.
Be compassionate to those people. Befriend some of them and allow them to befriend you. They would make you unique. They would make you somebody from no-one.
Caring for someone so much that we start loving them is natural. Don’t stop yourself from coming close to people even if they cause pain.
In fact, if we engage with the rest, life seems more liveable, as we get distracted from our problems and think about someone else, for a change.
Also Read: My research-based guide on building relationships.
Others show us their perceptions of reality persistently. But to live a meaningful and happy life, we need to see and think beyond the blinkers strapped on us by society.
Though planning for the future is essential, enjoying the present moment holds no less value. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you are delayed to reach the summit. Remember, the peaks of success and the timeline to reach might not be even defined by you.
So before you start working towards a future, ask yourself, what is it that you would need two or five years down the line? Assess and adjust your requirements to the constantly changing environment, which includes you.
And when you are on the path, don’t forget that the real joy is in the process of obtaining something. Don’t restrict yourself from being a little playful on this journey. This playfulness would make your journey unique, it would make it yours.
You would find many fellow travelers on the way. Be compassionate to them, even if it would hurt you a little in the end. Because the joy of having made a friend or two and resting with them for a little while would be irreplaceable. That is what would make you who you are.
And while you are at life, see with your heart.
As the fox told the Little Prince, “For it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
What do you think are the most important principles of life? Would love to hear from you.
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