Author Eric Weiner:
Wisdom is in short supply
We can get it back by rediscovering the forgotten art of philosophy
Pepa Vitanova, BTA
19 May, 2017
Close-up: A Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, Eric Weiner is a former long-time foreign correspondent for National Public Radio in the US and a correspondent for the New York Times. He has worked in New Delhi, Jerusalem and Tokyo and has reported from over 40 countries around the world. He has contributed for the Los Angeles Times, BBC, The New Republic, Best American Travel Writing and other publications. Weiner is the author of global best-sellers such as The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World, Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine and The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley.
Pepa Vitanova, BTA
- Mr Weiner, how do you prepare for a new project? Is the trip inspired by an idea for a new book or is the idea born during a trip?
- Normally, I would have an idea and take it on the road. I do not embark on journeys without doing the necessary research in the library first. This way, I know exactly what I am looking for when I am traversing the globe.
- You are a traveller in every sense of the word, in spirit and actual destinations visited. Please update your “status” for me - how many countries explored, kilometers covered and interesting encounters do you have under your belt?
- It is true, I am a globe-trotter and I have been to countless places. I would not want to be “a guy keeping score of visited countries” or an odometer. For me, travelling well is more important than being well travelled, meaning that I prefer to get a true feel for several places rather than rush through a bunch superficially.
- Tell us about the disappointments you have had along the way. Were the Moldovans not offended by your description of their country in your book The Geography of Bliss?
- Indeed, I am not that well-liked by some Moldovans. There was a period of time when I was inundated with angry emails from this country. However, these people obviously did not read my book carefully enough or they likely never even picked it up. It is not me who says that Moldovans are unhappy; Moldovans themselves have said it in various studies. In fact, I discovered many nice aspects to living in that country. Truth be told, I have grown quite fond of this country and I wish that more Moldovans knew that.
- How many geniuses do you know?
- Only one - my Bulgarian publisher Neyko Genchev. This man is brilliant, a veritable Bulgarian version of Einstein. I am being completely serious, he made it so that my books are released in a far-away country and here I am giving an interview about it. Genius!
- Taking a page from your book, The Geography of Genius actually, I would like to ask you: If you could have a glass of wine with a great figure of the past, who would it be and what would you ask them?
- I would like to have a drink with Ernest Hemingway (although he would have likely preferred something stronger than wine). I would ask him about his incredible writing discipline - 500 words a day (and what words at that) no matter how depressed he felt or hung-over. I admire him for that and I would like to know his secret.
- Perhaps you are familiar with the theory that every person is, in a sense, the average of the five people they interact most often with. These are the people who shape our way of thinking to a large degree and it, in turn, determines our successes or failures in life. Who would be your five?
- Actually, I have not heard that theory before. Thank you for teaching me something new. Honestly, my worldview is influenced not so much by people, or at least not directly, as by books and there are way more than five of them.
- One more question of numerical nature. According to social anthropologists, the critical mass of supporters needed for a major social change to happen is 8% of the people. Have you ever felt the wonderful feeling of being part of the 8% that are changing the life of many for the better?
- I have never thought in those terms. I am more focused on the process of writing my books than the matter of how they are received. But yes, it is fulfilling to know that my books touch people and that this experience somehow makes the world a better place.
- In one of your books, you write that meaning and happiness are found close to home but sometimes one needs to travel hundreds of thousands of kilometers to realise it. Do you like coming home?
- I really like coming home. In some ways it is the best part of travelling. Whenever I get back from a long trip, it makes me have a much deeper appreciation for my settled life. But I feel the need to travel, otherwise I start taking home for granted.
- After God, happiness and geniuses, what is the theme you plan to explore with your next book?
- My next book will be about wisdom. In this day and age, we are bombarded with information and yet wisdom is in short supply. My book will show how we can get our wisdom back by rediscovering the forgotten art of philosophy. Naturally, it will also involve travelling.