This attitude, adopted according to a number of principles, helped me reach my objectives and, more importantly, to keep alive the will to persist despite setbacks, difficulties, and periods of doubts. Uncertainty and hesitation are part of the scholarly life. In fact, they are an appropriate response to the current unquestioning and inflexible ideological positions that seem to hold a rigid monopoly on truth and freedom. 

Of late I presented my commandments as a set of practical advice for talented young scholars.

  1. You shall undertake scholarly activities with a sense of vocation

Obviously, there is a difference between considering the profession of scholarship as a means of earning a living and viewing it as a fulfilling vocation. A vocation allows you to identify yourself with your discipline, to discover and fructify your personal talents, to achieve the realization of your potentialities, and, most important, to become more fully human. A vocation conveys an agreeable and persistent feeling between what you are called to do and what you are able to do. 

Hence, your primary task is not merely preparing yourself for a job, bringing in a daily crust and securing your family’s well-being, but chiefly to evoke in you a sense of higher purpose, an intellectual hunger, and ultimately to devote your life to a passionate involvement in research activities.

  1. You shall value achievement and excellence

In the past twenty years or more, there has been an attack on the elitist character of scholarly life. In the name of equality, high standards and the comparative assessment of performance have tended to be either denounced or cancelled out. The identity, ethnicity, and racial background of the scholars have been valued above their accomplishments. 

As Simon Leys, scholar of China and writer, pointed out in an article on the idea of the university, the demand for equality must be fully supported in the sphere of social justice. But it cannot be applied in other domains – in sport, in arts, or even in scholarly activities. Here achievements are uneven in quality. Scholarship is “shamelessly geared towards excellence.” It is competitive and discerning and should recognize the best project, the best contribution, and the best application of the results regardless of an author's sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, race, or nationality. As a scholar, you should refuse to bend yourself to ideological conformity and resist the corrupting expressions of the so-called cancel culture.

  1. You shall treasure freedom

When we speak of freedom, we think of academic freedom – freedom from any social, political, cultural, religious interference. Universities and research institutions must support and foster open debates, free inquiry, unconstrained research about issues in the spirit of respectful and critical inquiry. 

There is a specific reason for treasuring freedom. Scholars are often called to adjust themselves to the existing social and economic needs, and to formulate research projects in response to these needs.

To be true, it is hardly possible to conceive that today’s scholars can be completely withdrawn from social concerns. There are urgent social problems – violence, energy, poverty, and migration, for example – that call for serious research. Nevertheless, you should tackle these issues in the spirit of independence and value a free space for research and debate. Your research projects and contribution should not be subordinated to political tactics and ideological expectations. 

  1. You shall assume responsibility to the community

Being free does not simply mean that you can just follow your whims. Your research and scholarship will surely explore avenues to satisfy your individual bent and gifts, but you must remain aware of your responsibility towards your community, which guarantees you freedom and well-being.

Of necessity, research and scholarship in the social sciences and humanities focuses on various aspects of our communal lives – on the improvement of institutions, of political decisions, of human communication, and on the creation of a more just, cultured, and healthy society. A sound research institution needs to focus on the common good and thus to understand social interactions not merely as a means of self-preservation. A fruitful research program on human relations – face-to-face or internet-based – will likely suggest how to promote collaboration, mutual aid, convergence of interests, compassionate help, and reciprocal self-realization.

  1. You shall have an understanding of human nature

Scholarly research is in interplay with a clearly articulated or a vaguely formulated idea of human being – a being endowed with the power of speech or awareness of time and rational thinking and other gifts. The scholars’ philosophical idea of human being makes their research more relevant for all sorts of concrete activities: business, urban planning, economic development, architectural design, health care, etc. A more or less explicit idea of human being leaves its mark on educational practices or legal organizations, as well as on differences in ethical judgments. This idea is a critical standard, a normative view, which protects researchers from hasty actions and valuations and even from fatal errors and abuses.

  1. You shall benefit from chance encounters

True scholars know that they never have complete control over their research activities. They benefit greatly from various chance encounters. By chance they peruse a persuasive article, they listen to a convincing lecture, they read a stimulating economic analysis, they visit a foreign institution, or they meet an inspiring colleague. In my experience, getting to know inspiring people brings the most benefit.

Lucky researchers happen to meet older scholars who leave a lasting influence on their research activity and become a model for them. A model is a scholar who, due to his or her perceived qualities, values, and achievements, exerts a profound and transformative influence on others. A lifelong research interest may be adopted following contact with such a scholar. 

Many notable authors have, in fact, drew attention to the debt they owed to their older colleagues. The philosopher Karl Jaspers, for example, emphasized the importance of being in the presence of the great German sociologist, Max Weber. Not surprisingly, Weber’s “wonderful source of energy” was not only effective when Jaspers was face-to-face with him, “thinking with him” as he said, but when he was no longer with him, but only “thinking of him.”

  1. You shall practice the art of conversation

At a vibrant educational institution, open-minded intellectual debates, free discussion among scholars, and lively conversations with students are an integral part of the research endeavor. Great scholars correctly believe that they have learned as much from these unconstrained exchanges as from lectures, research articles, books, and laboratory experiments. For example, the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead attended lectures on mathematics, but he claimed that “lectures were only one side of the education.” “The missing portions were supplied by incessant conversation, with our friends, undergraduates, or members of the staff.”

Conversation helps you to see things with the eyes of your partners, from a different point of view, and to overcome the persistent temptation of oversimplification and exclusion. It helps you to clarify and formulate ideas and, perhaps more importantly, to propose original insights. 

In addition, you learn to listen, to reason, to speak well and with ease, to grasp a problem from various angles, to tie abstract ideas to living realities, to treat others with tolerance and respect, and to formulate demands in a tactful manner.

  1. You shall relate research to teaching and teaching to research

There is a persistent temptation for scholars to place undue emphasis on their research work, preparing articles and books for publication, and, at the same time, neglecting their teaching, especially teaching undergraduate students. These scholars are short-sighted and they must be reminded that the highest value of completing a research project is so that they can teach other scholars through their publication, but also that they can use their scholarly work while giving lectures to their students. 

If you are not willing to teach, you will find yourself out of touch with your community; if you neglect doing high-quality research, you will find yourself out of touch with your discipline.

While preparing or delivering your lecture, give a thought to the words of the eminent art theorist, Rudolf Arnheim: “I have come to believe that what students learn from their teachers is mainly the attitude behind teaching.”

  1. You shall think, speak, and write with restraint

Human actions tend to exhibit an ambiguity that arises from two fundamental inner forces: the impulse to disclose: the need for validity, the impulse to restraint the need for modesty.

These forces must play a central role in a scholarly life. Wise scholars do not try to impose their views on those who think differently; rather they debate with them in a fair and respectful manner. They do not try to capture the public’s attention at all cost. They do not seek to display half-finished research as if they had a definite answer to a problem. They take a critical distance from their own talent, as well as from their hard-won achievements, and make decisions based on their creative skills and ideas. The restraint they impose on themselves when they speak and write gives them freedom, competency, and a sense of ease. The French philosopher Michel Serres praised the ability to hold a creative power in check and exercise restraint: “Possessing a power and not using it is the beginning of wisdom. And of civilization.”

  1.  You shall bring a sense of freedom and creativity into the world

The Canadian literary critic and university principal Northrop Frye once called the university “a powerhouse of freedom.” He meant that “there must be a continuous current of mental energy flowing into the world from the university.” This current represents what a university stands for in the face of economic and social constraints and what graduates bring into the world with their knowledge, creativity, and passion. This energy is in the artists’ vision, in the scientists’ experiments, in the teachers’ lessons, in the politicians’ policies, in the engineers’ designs, and in the surgeons’ healing hands. Once you leave the institution and devote your life to scholarly work, you can also feed on this energy of freedom and creativity and apply it to the benefit of your entire community.