Stephen Fry on things he has learned in life

by Andreas Koller

In this interview from 2010 english actor Stephen Fry talks about why technology doesn’t make up for missing talent, why ego-centric people are not successful, why setting goals is disastrous, why something completely different is more interesting than your usual thing, why travelling is important for self-reinvention and self-discovery, learning from masters and with friends, the joy of giving, our need to question and test knowledge, the complex questions in life, ethics and morality, engagement in society, social networks and democracy, the absurdity of conspiracy theories, the paradox of belonging and being outside, why self-obsessed people are distressing, and the greatness of kindness.

„One of the most wonderful things you can be given in life
is the ability to give“ (14:18)

Fry explains why he thinks goal-orientation is fatal. First, if you don’t meet your goals you call yourself a failure, and second, if you meet your goal, you do not achieve happiness because you’re chasing after something outside yourself:

„The worst thing you could ever do in life is set yourself goals.“ (2:18)

He quotes Noël Coward on „Work is more fun than fun.“ and explains that if you can say of your work that it’s more fun than fun, then you’re in the right place.

He goes on explaing why ego-centric people get nowhere, and that a positive interest in others is key to a successful life. However, our society seems to promote a self-centered way of living, where whining about our own miserable life is considered interesting, proof of which can be found in american television shows all the time.

„What unsuccessful people have in common,
they always talk about themselves all the time.“ (4:30)

On politics and religion, and why power is based on open and transparent knowlegde and not on opression and violence:

„Authority comes from the validity of information being repeatable, being open, being free and not coming with a threat, not being just told this is the case and you must believe it or you die.“ (18:15)

The tension between wanting to belong to a group while maintaining individuality are fundamental for the creative process:

„You want to be a part of the tribe, and you want to be apart from the tribe. It’s that pull that I think gives an enormous creative tension, it’s that spark of electricity that makes people creative.“ (26:16)

Over and over, he highlights the importance of kindness as the most important virtue:

„What counts more than talent, energy, concentration, commitment is kindness.“ (31:05)

I would agree with most of the points he made. However, I think setting goals is important to develop ambition – goals have to be adjusted all the time and the aim of setting goals is not necessarily to reach them but to know where to go.

The only thing that really bugs me is that he’s wearing an Apple T-shirt for no apparent reason.

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