Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The wisest book of all time? Pilgrim's Progress

'I’m busy, why should I read a blog post about an old book?' you might ask.

Well, Pilgrim’s Way is a classic – no question. One of those ‘must-reads’. The second best book of all time, in fact, according to the Guardian. What if it’s chock full of wisdom and deep insights into life? And what if this post sucks out all that valuable gold-dust – buried deeply inside – and lays it all out nice and snappy to be consumed in four, life-changing minutes? 

Here’s a quick run-down of the plot

Christian feels a burden on his back, and, after reading an ancient book, he knows in his heart that he must set off on a journey. His wife and children will not come with him, so he leaves them and goes alone. Soon he meets a friendly man called Evangelical who gives him detailed instructions to get rid of his burden. His pilgrimage starts at a gate. He passes through and straight away is challenged by a hill called Difficult, which he struggles up, and meets a companion called Faithful. After finding the Interpreter who is able to shed a little bit of light on the path, he has many adventures. Christian does battle with a fiendish monster in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, is locked in a castle by a Giant Despair. Eventually he gets to the end of his journey, and finds a river that he must plunge into, trusting himself to the lord. 

Later on, Christian’s wife seeing her error in not going with Christian decides to set out in his footsteps. She goes and is protected by one Great Heart as she travels and becomes wiser and more mature. Eventually the day comes for her to be appointed by God, and there the book ends.

Why is it mind-blowing? 

Well it is chock full of hidden wisdom. Here are the three key insights:

1) Clever people will disagree with you
Pilgrim’s Progress makes plain that doing anything worthwhile is a difficult journey. And, as Christian finds, life is full of people trying to throw you off your course. Those people will have whole systems of logic in their heads to support their view. As well as whole networks and hierarchies of people who agree with them. In fact, what they say might even make sense – for them. But in order to get what you want, you have to go through these obstacles. The way to do that is not by convincing them, or by compromising on your destination, it’s by sticking to your way: the straight and narrow.

2) People don’t want you to change
Christian’s wife and children cannot see any rationale for his leaving – they think it’s all in his head, and so they stay behind as he sets off. That’s true of life too. The people around you probably don’t want you to go on the journey. They don’t want you to change or leave because they like you as you are. That means if you want to do something different, not only will they not want to come, but they will resent you for leaving. They might even laugh at you, or look down at you for it. But – and this is important – when you succeed people will follow you, just like Christian’s wife eventually does. People like well-worn paths. They might not help you blaze one, but they’re sure to follow once you do. 

3) Being a hero is a choice
Ultimately, Pilgrim’s Progress is a chronicle of every hero's journey. A lone man, setting out by himself is tested and pushed to his limits, but he stays true to his mission and, with help, manages to succeed in his goal. Later people follow him.  But unlike, say, Odysseus – who was a hero in stature – Christian is a hero because of the choices he makes. He isn’t especially strong, or clever, or bold. He’s just a man who chooses to take a journey to seek what he thinks is right. Being a hero isn’t about who you are, it’s about the choices you make, and the journeys you take. Being a hero is a choice.


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