What can we learn from The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem?

In Summer 2016, I am grateful for the opportunities to read books to widen my horizons and improve my command of English. A book recommended by Austin Kleon is The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem, that I have wanted to read since 2015.

To me, his words [1] were weaved with rich vocabularies, and they have allowed me to learn the complexity of English and the thoughts possibly expressed using English. Think of anabolism as a path to catabolism, and vice versa.

While I love simplicity, I need to learn complexity in order to simplify. Recently, I recognize a strength of Honey Panda who can easily simplify things that he have learned, from difficult technical terms to explanations for Little Prince.

  1. Copy then innovate. Even “literature has always been a crucible in which familiar themes are continually recast,” as shown by Heinz von Lichberg’s Lolita (first published in 1916 in Berlin) and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (first published in 1955 in Paris). Perhaps, the same trend is prevalent in arts, science, and enterprises.”Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal…” – T.S. Eliot via Jeff B. Cohen 20160116
  2. Acknowledge [2] and be careful not to infringe others’ intellectual property (IP) or copyright. Jonathan Lethem argues that IP has been used to justify almost everything, a notorious example is how Celera Genomics filing patents for human genomics – acts that many scientists, including Nobel Laureate John Sulston– a generous senior, have fought for because the acts deprive human beings from freely accessing scientific information and making progress in understanding selves. On the other hand of the spectrum, what do you think about altruism-driven IP infringement, e.g. Sci-Hub [3]?
  3. Stand on the shoulders of giant to see further and create better. “Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master,” no matter what fields or domains we are in, we need to constantly learn from the best, to unleash our hidden potentials.
  4. Read and review to unravel and know the unknown unknowns. Don Swanson of University of Chicago proved that current challenges in medical research, the “undiscovered public knowledge,” can be significantly addressed and solved through systematic reviewing the scientific literature.
  5. Give. A gift makes a connection and if we have nothing physical to give to others, a genuine smile or a respectful nod can qualify as a gift. Happy Green Panda, written without any commercial intention but with “write-for-yourself” mode, is a gift to the panda herself (at different places and time/age) and those who are interested to learn from what the panda has learned from others. Simultaneously, we must be wise in (i) accepting and receiving gifts [4] and (ii) not giving or continuously giving to those who demand more than what we are capable of/willing to give [5].
  6. Teach our children and grandchildren how to protect themselves from (sexual) predators. Some men are dangerous e.g. (i) fellow college mates, (ii) Humbert Humbert, simultaneously a scholar and a molester, narrated in Lolita. Young people and ladies, be careful of men who try to make you drunk and like to touch you. Honestly, I don’t like how JediZ2015 touched my shoulder or arm for few times [6], after all I grew up in conservative Asia and so did he. Learn to diplomatically set boundaries and say No [7].
  7. Give our children love from both father and mother. A daughter growing up without a father, as in the case of Lolita, craves for father’s love. Thus, through her ignorance and innocence, Dolores (nicknamed as Lolita by Humbert) was easily taken advantages by Humbert. A son growing up without a father, often ends up rebellious and may end up in crimes.
  8. Choose our customers carefully. Dolores’ mother made a mistake for renting a room for a tenant who is interested in her teenage daughter. Perhaps, renting to female tenants is a safer options for landlords and their family who live together with tenants. Remember to harbour no ill intention against others, but never relax vigilance against evil-doers (害人之心不可有,防人之心不可无).

[1] ref2016/jonathan_lethem_influence_*.txt + ref2016/quotes_*.pdf

[2] How to acknowledge others, their efforts and work? cite + quote

[3] While the founder of Sci-Hub, who prefers not to be compared to Robin Hood, shared that her goal is to increase the spread of knowledge, especially in developing countries where people cannot afford the high cost of research papers demanded by opportunistic publishers, many Sci-Hub users can access, albeit less conveniently, the same papers through their libraries in developed countries.

[4] Robert Cialdini warns us, as I re-learned on 20160516, that if an unsolicited gift is lacking of good will or having a hidden motive, we are free to receive it and not give anything back while still retaining a good conscience and excluding ourselves from the need of reciprocation. Moreover, some gifts are better rejected as they are harmful.

[5] see ref2016/assisi*.txt

[6] Nevertheless, JediZ2015 has generously shared his life experience. I must remember a 20160605 #pandaLesson: 看人长处 + 帮人难处 + 记人好处

[7] see ref2016/how_to_say_no_*.txt

20160610 (5 pomodoro) ~ hopefully a #pandamnemonic CAGUG can help us to remember the above mentioned lessons.

C = Copy
A = Acknowledge
G = use Giant
U = Unravel via reading + reviewing
G = Give


  1. […] What attitudes do we need to adopt regarding gifts? While we learn that it’s always better to give than to receive, I realize that some gifts are not genuinely gifts in which they evoke our sense of reciprocation (even we do not want the gifts) as highlighted by Robert Cialdini. Moreover, few gifts can be hazardous. Gifts can be surveillance devices, for example the label of the luxurious alcohol that Woo brought to meet up with Jang, Lee and the sponsor (Mirae Motors Chairman). Recently, father-in-law warned us not to receive beautiful key chains e.g. in the form of a Turkish eye, from strangers at the airport. […]


  2. […] Love bombing can be defined as an attempt to influence another person with over-the-top displays of attention and […]


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