Sunday, December 09, 2007

No Child Ever Dreams of Growing Up Effective

A photo of Blue Lagoon, near the Bahamas, some time in the late 1980s. Thanks to my dad for finding the picture for me. Sadly, I read today that due to a massive storm in 1991, the island no longer looks like this.

I often think of the book title, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I've never actually read the book, mind you. Perhaps that is why I'm not as effective as I could be. But the book makes me think: Is life actually about being effective?

Look at it this way: You're born and then sometime later you die. Is the meaning of life really about making those times in the middle effective?

Closer to the dawn of human existence, we had to spend most of our waking hours looking for food. If you weren't effective, you died.

Along the way, we've made some progress. Well, in terms of food production, we have made some progress.

It no longer takes all day just to stave off death from starvation. When I drive through Kansas, I occasionally see a sign that reads, "The average Kansas farmer feeds 23 people [exact number escapes memory] and YOU!"

So the question becomes: "What are the 24 of us doing with our spare time since we're not farming?"

I mean, we could sit around Blue Lagoon Island soaking up the sun and waves. Really, I've been there. It beats whatever you are going to do today. By a lot.

But we don't do that. And that fascinates me.

We live in a modern society. We work 5 days a week and relax for 2. Think of the 1980s Loverboy song lyrics, Everybody's working for the weekend. We work for the weekend as if the entire notion of a weekend were not just a human creation.

And it's not to eat ... of even for shelter. We work and work and work to consume. Gadgets. Toys. Joneses with whom to be kept up.

And somehow along the way, I think that we missed the point. I have the distinct feeling that we're all rushing around so much, that in essence, we're just rushing around to our own deaths.

Is the meaning of life really "effectiveness?" Is it really "time management?"

Somehow that just feels wrong to me.

And the thing is, it seems pretty easy not to question it. It's the received view.

And collectivism might work pretty well at some small monastery in Tibet, but it has not proven particularly joyous on a large scale. So are we doomed to this fate simply because there happen to be 6 billion of us tromping around? After the industrial revolution and the information society, are there no go backs?

I don't pretend to have any answers. And perhaps these are just the miscellaneous of ramblings of someone who grew up going to a private school in the middle of the Material Girl 1980s. When one of your friends gets a BMW for their 14th birthday [not a typo], it does tend to color your view of reality.

In the end, I think back to that Kansas farm sign. It seems perhaps that the 24 of us are not making very good choices what to do with our days.

There should be a lot more reading by the pool.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post makes me wonder if there's a bit of Marxist in every academic :)

I strongly recommend Karl Marx's 1844 Manuscripts particularly the part on Estranged Labour.


1:27 PM  
Blogger Samuel D. Bradley said...

I will add it to the To-Do list.

Most people in the academy -- except almost completely people in schools of business -- are relatively less moved by money. And in that sense, the general ideas of Marx make sense.

I must admit that when I read the Communist Manifesto, I found it rather inaccessible. Ironically, Wikipedia says, "Much of its power comes from the concise, pithy and punchy way it is written." So much for me.

I have spent much of the day reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a gift from Wes. It has an apropos line on page 121:

People arrive at a factory and perform a totally meaningless task from eight to five without question because the structure demands that it be that way. There's no villain, no "mean guy" who wants them to live meaningless lives, it's just that the structure, the system demands it and no one is willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just because it is meaningless.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two quotes from the movie "Fight Club" come to mind. The wording may be a little off, but you get the point.

"We work at jobs we hate to buy things we don't need."

"The things you own end up owning you."


7:19 AM  
Blogger Leah Fo Shizzle Bizzle said...

Interesting post--some friends and I were eating a homemade dinner of Indian food and wine on Wednesday (my girlfriends and I drink wine every Wednesday night) and someone commented on how much better things would be if we didn't have to work and could do this (eat and socialize w/ friends, enjoy people's company) more often.

Thing is, as you point out, we CAN, but because of other demands we think we can't. I am as guilty of this as anyone--these days it's working hard during the week to get to ski it up on the weekends :)

And as you have probably researched, or surely pondered, there is something that just makes us think we NEED that latest gadget (Ninentdo Wii, latest digital camera, iPhone) even though we were fine the week before without it.

I'm going to read Zen over the holidays and see what I draw from it.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sam, interesting thoughts. Recently, I've been thinking a lot about the meaning of life too. I realize that I do not work FOR the weekend. One of my reasons for my career choice is that I can treat and use my 7/24 almost the same. Neither for the butter and bread--to marry a rich guy is much easier, LOL... To second you, being a professor seems to be the best job for me. I love the freedom, autonomy, and creativity.

3:20 PM  

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