The Readers' Writers: The humbling genius of Dr. Ervin Laszlo

DA Kentner

Hungarian Ervin Laszlo was a child prodigy on piano. But his creativity, vision and insatiable appetite for exploration refused to be satisfied with stopping at internationally acclaimed virtuoso.

Today he is the holder of the highest degree of the Sorbonne (the State Doctorate), four honorary Ph.D.s and numerous awards and distinctions, including the 2001 Goi Peace Award and the 2005 Assisi Mandir of Peace Prize. He has written or contributed to more than 80 books and is a two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. A former professor of philosophy, systems theory and futures studies, Laszlo is founder and president of an international think tank - the Club of Budapest - as well as of the General Evolution Research Group.

Now he has elected to tell his story. But not as a remote personality at a podium, or a stranger in our midst. Laslo has penned "Simply Genius!: And Other Tales from My Life" in the manner of an old friend sitting on our couch, a cup of lemon tea in his hand, saying, "Let me tell you where I've been the last 79 years." And that in and of itself lends insight to the uncommon genius of Ervin Laszlo.

Q. During your debut with the Budapest Symphony, the child you were was focused on whether a particular box of candy had arrived. When did you realize your life would not parallel other children?

A. I never realized it, certainly not as a child. I always thought of myself as "one of the boys" - playing soccer in the summer, ice hockey in the winter and bicycling all year 'round. I enjoyed listening to music - loved the phonograph I got for my 10th birthday and avidly collected the large and scratchy 78 rpm disks I would listen to over and over. My mother played the piano for me every morning, and then I played the same pieces in turn - it was great fun. Then I went on with my life - a boy's life, like any other. 

Q. What prompted you to write your story now?

A. Actually, friends and publishers prompted me, but I didn't want to do it. I said I am not interested in looking back, just forward - what has been, has been. But finally I agreed to write down the anecdote I would come up with when journalists would ask, "How did you shift from being a concert pianist to being an academic - a philosopher?" That is quite a story, and since I have told it quite a few times, I just sat down and wrote it out. Then my friends came back saying, “Can you add how you met the Finnish girl who became your wife?” That was another question I was often asked and I got used to giving an answer to it. Within three weeks I had a dozen "short stories" on my laptop. And I began to enjoy myself. It was fun going back over the years and living myself into bygone and I thought long-forgotten times. They were as vivid as ever. For a day I would be an 18-year-old growing up and having romantic adventures in New York, then a 30-year-old in Switzerland timorously seeing if he could make it as a budding scientist and philosopher. Or a 55-year-old becoming an international civil servant and being privy to some of the backstage discussions at the UN that would shape the world (or so I thought). And so it went, until I had all 22 stories in hand and said, now basta - that's enough. I added some recollections of how I reconnected with my hometown Budapest over the years, and the book was born.

Q. Of all your accomplishments, professionally and personally, which is the one that continues to warm your heart?

A. What I most want and have always hoped for and appreciated is having loving people around me: my immediate family and close friends. I have that privilege, though I don't feel that I really deserve it. Perhaps I have been lucky. In any case, I thank my lucky stars for that.

Q. Throughout your life, it is music that seems to be the blood in your veins that fuels your passion, the drive to pursue your intuition, and your love of wisdom. Should all of us seek to identify a passion beyond the rote of routine?

A. I should say, yes, absolutely. Living for something is what makes life worth living. Having a vision, no matter how pedestrian or how pie in the sky. The ultimate hobby, the ultimate satisfaction, is to do something that you think is worthwhile.

Q. What message do you hope to leave with your readers?

A. The adventure is finding out what life really is all about. And if you can have fun while looking for the answer, so much the better. I abhor being so serious about anything that the sense of adventure is lost. There is a well-known expression in German, “tierische Ernst,” meaning "beastly seriousness." I have always disliked it, in myself even more than in others. I hope this comes through between the lines in all these "tales from my life."

DA Kentner is an author and journalist.