How to Live Book Summary - How to Live Book explained in key points
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How to Live summary

Judith Valente

What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community

4.5 (205 ratings)
23 mins
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    How to Live
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    St. Benedict encouraged his community to listen deeply in order to better understand one another.

    When St. Benedict established his monastery, he was trying to escape the greed and injustice of the world around him. You may think of monks as solitary – after all, monk comes from the Greek word monos, meaning one – but St. Benedict’s intention was to build a happy community.

    To do so, he needed a set of principles to guide how that community would work. And so The Rules of St. Benedict were born.

    The pillars of Benedict’s vision were simplicity, humility, hospitality, gratitude, and praise. But to make those stick, there was one rule he put above all others: the art of listening.

    The key message here is: St. Benedict encouraged his community to listen deeply in order to better understand one another.

    At the heart of the Benedictine rule book is a call for better listening and for people to clearly communicate and understand one another. Benedict believed that without these three things, a community is doomed to fall apart. 

    If you’ve seen the 2016 movie Arrival, you’ll know it has a similar message. When aliens descend on Earth, the world’s superpowers are ready to start blowing things up – that is, until a linguist saves the day by listening, communicating and, eventually, understanding that the aliens are peaceful and just trying to help.

    As with the aliens from the movie, when we meet new people or people who are different from us, we need to call on the same skills. It’s all too easy to block out voices that seem strange, but if we’re going to thrive, we need to not just listen but, as Benedict urges us, to “listen with the ear of the heart.”

    This well-known Benedictine phrase means truly hearing other people. Of course, just because it’s well-known doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes an awareness of our own tendencies. 

    The author, for example, was taken aback when a colleague said she could sometimes come across as aggressive and condescending in meetings. Even though it came as a bit of a shock, she took the advice to heart and found a way to listen more and be less forceful with her opinions.

    You are constantly listening to your own voice. In order to thrive as part of a community, Benedict encourages you to listen to outside voices as well.

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    What is How to Live about?

    How to Live (2018) takes a thoughtful look at the teachings of St. Benedict and how the rules he applied to sixth-century monastic living can help us lead better lives today. From the benefits of cultivating silence to insights into how to be a better leader, find out how The Rule of St. Benedict can help you better navigate the pitfalls of modern life. 

    Best quote from How to Live

    Run while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you.

    —Judith Valente
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    Who should read How to Live?

    • Anyone eager to live more meaningfully
    • People interested in monastic life
    • Burned-out workers looking for balance

    About the Author

    Judith Valente is an award-winning journalist, essayist, and poet who’s been a staff writer for publications including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. She has also worked in television and radio and has undertaken speaking engagements and led retreats on the power of poetry and leading a more meaningful work life. Her other books include The Art of Pausing: Meditations for the Overworked and Overwhelmed.

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