In the first part of his career Russell Brand was somewhat a controversial character. Initially he was a stand-up comedian, then he did some work for MTV, and he is best-known for his work hosting the Big Brother series on Channel 4. Brand’s life was very much laid out in the media for us all to see. He has been openly promiscuous, drug taking, and an alcoholic. But more recently Brand, in my opinion, has become one of the most interesting philosophers of our time. He certainly gives me a lot to ponder on.
In recent years Russell Brand has become an activist and has spoken widely on a number of political and societal issues. He even started to study for a Masters in International Relations at SOAS.
In September 2017 Brands book Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions was published. That for me was the turning point of my interactions with Russell. I had personally been hesitant to engage with him as a teacher. Recommendations for Recovery were in my social media thread, in the news I was reading, and I even saw the book a few times in the library! It was as if I was being called to pick the book up! I believe I purchased the audio version of the book about a year before I bought the hard copy (as with many of my audiobooks I forgot it was there!). I received the Recovery book on Thursday and I finished reading it by Saturday evening!
Although it is full of some challenging subjects and contains very colourful language Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions is amongst the top 10 most profound books I have ever read. It provided an opportunity to think about addiction in a more broader sense - I've always believed that we are all addicted to something.
You might be addicted to sugar, smoking, alcohol, watching a particular TV programme, eating particular foods, chocolate or coffee. Whatever the thing is that you cannot live without it's an addiction. So this book showed me how to respond to minor and major addictions in a structured manner.
More recently I have been watching Russell’s videos on social media and listening to his podcast. His celebrity status has enabled him to interview personalities and academics that others may not be able to speak to. And due to Russell’s style he can be quite controversial, pushy and edgy (in the right way) so will not avoid the difficult questions, and alongside those asks some fun ones too! He has a laugh while doing something of substance and seriousness. I love that approach.
I would say that Russell Brand has been one of my most surprising teachers, because (to be perfectly honest) I never thought I would have anything to learn from him. Russell’s behaviour and complex lifestyle in his 20s made him somebody that I could observe, learn lessons from, but not necessarily want to engage with because he was so different to me. And his reason for being in the Press was more to do with issues related to his personal addictions and issues, rather than something that stimulated me intellectually and made me ask questions about my life.
I think a good teacher always makes you think about your life. They make you reflect on things that you can improve. And enable you to connect their story with yours.
In my time I cannot remember anybody whose life has been shared so publicly and has gone on to have such a profound shift in their approach to life. This gives us a huge amount to reflect on.
1. Don’t judge somebody based on where they are now.
It is very easy for us to dismiss people based on what they are experiencing in the moment. I have always thought that everybody has an opportunity to redeem themselves, and that opportunity exists until they die. If we judge somebody like Russell Brand based on how he was in his 20s, then we detach ourselves from the opportunity to learn from the wise philosopher that he has become.
2. Youth has its own challenges (even more so when there are no role models).
Many times the mistakes we make are just because we are trying to learn and navigate our way in this world. I think that many of Brand’s challenges in life came from the fact that he had no role models to show him the way in the celebrity world. If we look at the challenges of youth, on their own they are complex enough, but if you add to that not having solid guidance (or someone to bounce ideas off) then it becomes easy to see why some people may fall off the rails.
3. Ask for help.
From what little I know of Russell, his breakthrough was when he acknowledged that he had a problem and asked for help. Acknowledging you have a problem is huge in itself. When it is followed by asking for help then it is very powerful. For me to see this from somebody who I now consider to be my teacher it is a powerful reminder of why we always need to surround ourselves with people who can provide us with the guidance and support that is necessary in complex situations.
4. Find a mentor.
Russell sought help from a 12-step recovery program. He says in his book how this program transformed his life. Brand also shares how it was his mentor's and guides that enabled him to have some of the biggest shifts in his life.
5. Do the work.
What I respect most about Russell is that he acknowledged he had a challenge or problems that he wanted to do some work on, he rolls his sleeves up and did the work. Day after day, week after week, month after month, when he was desperate for a drink, he still did the work. Of course there were times when he fell off the wagon, but it was his determination that kept him going and he would find his right path again.
Russell Brand’s life, although very different from mine, gives me a huge amount to think about and that is why I think he is one of my best teachers. His book Mentors: How To Help and Be Helped came out earlier this year and I am very excited to read that soon.
If Russell Brand or his books have assisted you in anyway I would love to hear your thoughts about him as your teacher please let me know by commenting below. Hearing about your insights gives me a deeper insight into my own reflections and learning.