Drawing upon philosophical thinking, Professor Suárez examines how we might develop skills and tools to maintain our “humanness” in an increasingly complex world and the importance of cultivating practices that produce harmony.
IE Law School and the Arts and Humanities Division at IE University have come together to present the first edition of the PPLE Philosophy Series “Reasons for Hope”, an extracurricular activity designed for our students from the Bachelor in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Economics and open to the IE community. This series of webinars features prominent international professors who offer various viewpoints on issues that affect us all.
Juan Luis Suárez is a renowned professor of humanities and computer science at Western University in Ontario, Canada, and an alum of IE University’s Executive MBA. A multi-award winning researcher, respected author and celebrated public speaker, Professor Suárez was our first featured expert for the opening webinar of the “Reasons for Hope” series.
Philosophy for a complex world
Drawing upon philosophical thinking, Professor Suárez set out to examine how we might develop skills and tools to maintain our “humanness” in an increasingly complex world. The skills he outlines—description, explanation and practice—then need to be applied to four key areas: self, community, creativity and environment.
We need to describe ourselves in relation to the community we’re a part of and explain the relationship that exists between nature, state and self.
He provides some examples of this, saying we need to describe ourselves in relation to the community we’re a part of and explain the relationship that exists between nature, state and self. Of course, as important as explanation and description are for understanding our complex world, we also need to establish practices. While this is true for all individuals, it is especially necessary for rulers, leaders, politicians, ministers and civil servants. Given that they occupy positions of service, they must cultivate creative practices that produce harmony.
The importance of trust
Professor Suárez then talks about the concept of trust. Human society, or a single city, are complex organisms built and sustained on myriad trust-based interactions. Describing author and theorist Jane Jacobs’ examination of cities, he pointed out that “trust” is a short word to describe the assumption of support in a city, formed in countless sidewalk contacts. Trust, said Professor Suárez, is the only constant across all major events and great crises that affect human society. How much we trust other people, leaders and institutions, is the main currency for the 21st century.
Concepts of self
Returning to the human concepts of self, Professor Suárez draws from Confucianism, Greek “nature” philosophy and Renaissance humanism to talk about the importance of storytelling in human culture. In so doing, he reminds us of Canadian author and broadcaster Thomas King’s assertion that, “The truth about stories is, it is all we are. We are just stories.”
Stories are powerful, asserted Professor Suárez, reiterating King’s warning to be careful about the stories we tell, and watch out for the stories we listen to. Relearning the difference between truth and fiction, and between the practice of telling and the mistake of lying, is too important to leave to “the market.”
Trust is the only constant across all major events and great crises that affect human society. How much we trust other people, leaders and institutions, is the main currency for the 21st century.
A strategic mindset
Moving on to strategy, Professor Suárez asked why this vital skill is only taught to businesspeople and the military. Strategy allows us to forecast our next steps to connect our ends to our means, yet few individuals learn this skill for their own lives. We must change the current paradigm, which was eloquently described by Yale’s Professor John Lewis Gaddis: “Common sense should be one of the main features of leaders. But like oxygen, the higher they get, the less of it there is.”
Professor Suárez concluded the fascinating lecture by urging us to use these learnings to fold ourselves into our community. By listening properly to stories, using the tools of strategy to look at the future and connecting self, community, environment and ecosystem, we may devise creative ways to live in the future.
**If you are interested in hearing Professor Suaréz’s insights first hand, watch the entire lecture here. And stay tuned for more online “Reasons for Hope” lectures, from eminent authorities in their fields in April, May and June 2021.