A colleague, and friend, recently asked for ONE reading to include in an Honors Anthology for IRSC’s Honors Program. I was dumbstruck. How could I possibly narrow the plethora of readings I’ve been exposed to down to one? And to make it worse, she further limited it to “article length,” which I liberally interpreted as essay length, about 10,000 words or less. She did allow that it could be multimedia. Thus, I did what anybody in my predicament would have done. I cheated. I’m anal-retentive about following directions, so I couldn’t send more than one; but for a smart donkey like me, it wasn’t too difficult to find a workaround. I decided that the multiple-facets of my life would have to be split (i.e., I created a different personality for the different aspects of my life.).
The first thought that came to mind was Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. But this is a full length book and didn’t fit the length requirement. So I thought about the most striking aspect of the text and concluded that the jellyfish analogy was most important. The fact that as a species we feel we are somehow special, although we’ve only been around 100,000 years and in the last 200 years we’ve nearly destroyed the habitat for all who live here; whereas, the jellies have been here for millions of years and will probably survive after we make the dry land surface of the planet inhospitable for life. But that wasn’t my first attack on her senses…
The ONE I chose to send first was the lecture by the late Al Bartlett on Arithmetic, Population, and Energy. Although the whole 75 minutes ought to be watched, I concluded that to meet the parameters set one should watch until the lesson on the bacteria in a bottle concluded (about 25 minutes and 30 seconds into the video). If we do not change our misunderstanding of exponential growth, then there is no hope.
With the ONE decided, I continued to ponder the question and think of significant works that have influenced my understanding of life and helped shape who I am. It was a great exercise and I did send her a few other topics by “people” other than Professor Clark. There was the Closet Philosopher, Smart Donkey, High School Dropout, etc., but the exercise made me think that I needed to compile a list of the media that have really influenced my being.
I will admit upfront that I have been heavily influence by the study of religion, for my maternal grandfather and great grandfather were preachers, and I inherited a massive library on the subject and read all of the books that were in English. I’m not going to delve into religion and belief today (maybe next Fall), but I have to affirm that the enormous reading I have done on religion/faith/spirituality has influenced who I am, but I can’t narrow it down to one book for this area, so I’m not going to recommend any from this genre.
Finally, I’m not going to include the standard documents that an educated person should have been exposed to while earning a degree. For example: the ancient works of the Greeks and Romans (e.g., Odyssey, Dialogues, etc.), Magna Carta, the historical documents from American history (e.g., Declaration of Independence, Constitution, I Have a Dream speech, etc.), etcetera are assumed to have been read. Instead, I’m going to provide the works that were influential to me, and are not generally encountered in an average college education.
Including the two above (i.e., Ishmael & Arithmetic, Population, and Energy), here are some more worth investigating:
Although I’ve read Locke’s tome An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and I’ve read Jefferson’s essay length summary (i.e., Declaration of Independence), I prefer much shorter versions of philosophical thought (Don’t miss the irony that this is my longest blog…). So, my number one choice is a collection of quotes that I have accumulated over the last twenty-plus years. I was introduced to this thought process by one of my undergraduate professors, James Beadle. Of all I have read, these probably influenced me more than all else. The one most pertinent is “Every day that you see the sunrise, you know it is going to be a good day.” – Colonel Hubbard. Be forewarned, there is one in there that says “Any philosophy that fits in a nutshell belongs there.” – Anonymous. You may download here.
Number two on the list is the Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Herrnstein & Murray. If you choose to read this work, then you must also complete the due diligence and read the many antithesis works about it. If you get past the racial implications, the book provides an excellent primer in statistical analysis and understanding the people around us.
From the first list, please see that Mark Twain once said, “Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them all.” This selection follows the same misanthropic train of thought: The Damn Human Race.
Following on the same lines as Twain’s quote above, Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior: A Commando's Guide to Success, by Richard Marcinko, does add some insight as to how we became a plutocracy. When we strip away any morals and only Darwinism is left, then those who “play by the rules” are left without anything.
Finishing the wander through misanthropic thought… It isn’t a book or a video, but it does require reading. Dilbert has helped keep me sane over the years. I start every work day with comics, so I know the sun has risen.
I’m going to change themes and talk about education because that is what I do… All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum was true. With the emphasis on accountability over the last 14 years, this is no longer true; so youngsters need to read this book. Many students no longer learn these lessons because kindergarteners are subjected to “rigorous academics,” instead of how to live long and prosper in the world.
The message of duty and honor has also been lost in the push for academic rigor. I was exposed to many poems throughout my educational endeavors. The only one I ever understood was The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Although it is technically not reading, it does fit the parameters of my original assignment, so my next entry is a talk on education. I’ve viewed many TED talks, but this was the first I was introduced to in a training many years ago. Ken Robinson’s Does School Kill Creativity? has greatly influenced my thoughts on education, and for my students I’ve used this video as an example of exceptional speaking skills. Please feel free to watch all of his talks.
I started with “thinking” and have returned to the subject. Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Technique for Using Your Subconscious Power is a defining work on the power of the mind and self-hypnosis. From watching Star Trek as a child, I have always believed in the power of the mind.
Finally, the hope of a better life in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite reads. It is truly a fun read, full of life! Whether you simply read for the happy ending love story, or the more philosophical topics (e.g., class distinction), it is worth the effort. As with all of these recommendations, it makes you think!
Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” As you devour these media, please keep that in mind. We should never unequivocally endorse the views of others. Instead, we should allow the views of others to help shape our own beliefs. If we are only exposed to views that we agree with, then no growth happens; we must continually challenge our own beliefs, which will nurture us as individuals. Never give up the opportunity to learn something new!