I’ve just finished writing a new book on empathy, due out early next year, provisionally titled Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution. In my effort to get the manuscript in on time, I’ve been neglecting answering emails and dealing with bills, and my study is piled with bits of paper that I’ve been meaning to file for months. I just came across one of those bits of paper that I’d completely forgotten about. It’s a list of 17 ideas to help you seize the day, which I prepared for a School of Life project a few years ago called Carpe Diem Daily. The project (which is now over) involved creating a website that offered participants a simple daily task where they were invited to snap a photo, make a short video or write a few lines of text that could be shared online with others. So here are the tasks I contributed (along with people like the guerrilla gardener Richard Reynolds and the slow-culture writer Carl Honoré). You might consider trying out a few of them for yourself and posting the results in the Comments section of this blogpost.
1.‘We seem to be suffering from an empathy deficit – our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to see the world through those who are different from us.’ – Barack Obama. Take one photo of empathy, and one of its absence.
2.‘The hidden thoughts in other people’s heads are the great darkness that surrounds us,’ writes the historian of conversation Theodore Zeldin. Have a conversation with a stranger today. Write one thing about it that surprised you.
3.The ancient Greeks had six different words for love. Video yourself telling the world your 30-second definition of love.
4.‘To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.’ – Oscar Wilde. Phone somebody in your family and apologise for something you’ve been meaning to apologise about for a long time. Tell us what happened.
5.‘You are what you eat,’ wrote the eighteenth-century gastronomic philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Tell us what the contents of your fridge reveals about your personality.
6.According to the philosopher A.C. Grayling: ‘If there is anything worth fearing in the world, it is living in such a way that gives one cause for regret in the end.’ Write your own obituary in 50 words or less.
7.‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ – Mahatma Gandhi. Photograph something you want to change.
8.‘Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.’ – Aristotle. Send a postcard to a friend you have lost touch with. Take a photo of what you wrote and send it in.
9.One thing we all have in common is that we have all been children. Yet we easily forget how differently children see the world. Record a sound that would intrigue a five-year-old.
10.‘If the diver always thought of the shark, he would never lay hands on the pearl,’ said the medieval Persian philosopher Sa’di. Which of your fears would you most like to overcome?
11.In 1492 the Moorish King Boabdil wept when he was forced to hand over the keys of the beautiful Spanish city of Granada to the invading Christians from the north. Tell us what makes you cry.
12.If you lived a hundred years from now, what would be your biggest worry in life?
13.Do you think it is better to be a high achiever or a wide achiever? Give us your thoughts in under 50 words.
14.‘Man is a tool-making animal,’ said Benjamin Franklin. Photograph the main tool you use to do your work.
15.Communities are disintegrating all around us. Or are they? Photograph the best and worst of the street you live in.
16.‘Dreams are often most profound when they seem most crazy.’ – Sigmund Freud. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you want to be?
17.‘Even if it’s a little thing, do something for those who have need of man’s help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it,’ wrote the humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer. Tell us one thing you would give up to make the world a better place.