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Archive for the ‘Good Life’ Category

Talk to any professional educator in the United States today and you will hear endless gripes about underperforming students, helicopter parents, and unsympathetic and detached administrators. What is noticeably lacking (at least noticeable to me, anyway) in this discourse is a vital question: In a technologically hyper-connected 21st century, where does morality fit and, how does one achieve–as what the ancient Greeks called–the good life?

Tensions between teenagers and adults are timeless. Ancient Roman parents quipped about their undisciplined and spontaneous teenage children just as their American counterparts do. The increased relationships between parent and child, however, have never been closer. Moms and dads are more likely to act less “authoritarian” and more “collaborative;” in other words, parents are more likely to be their children’s best friends. Just like the show “Gilmore Girls”, where mother Lorelai and and daughter Rori share every thought and whim, parents have developed a much closer bond with their offspring.

Is this new bond healthy? Today’s teenagers, however, are less likely to act like the responsible Rori but parents are more likely to blindly defend their child. After all, today’s parents grew up not to trust anyone over 30; teachers were seen as antiquated curmudgeons who were concerned more with discipline than education. More than any other generation, today’s parents best understand teenage desire for rebellion.

Teenagers also understand teen angst but instead of serving as a collaborative point its a stumbling block. Part of adolescence is rebelling against authority and in the classroom teachers represent that authority. Parents today can relate to their children because they grew up with James Dean, Holden Caufield, and David Lee Roth. It’s what I’d like to refer to as “I tortured the teacher, I turned out okay” syndrome. But did those parents turn out okay?

Anyway, I’ve digressed. With all the focus on standardized testing and mastering content, how do we get our students to understand what it means to be ethical? What is the “right thing” in 2008? Have ethics changed or do they remain timeless? Does advanced communication–where an individuals can instantly communicate with one another–break down barriers that would lead to conflict, or do they speed up the process? Does a 21st century educational system need to require an independent ethics curriculum or should ethics be inserted throughout coursework? These are questions that I’ll seek to explore in further blog installments.

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It’s been quite awhile since my last post but I’ve returned! Here’s what kept me busy these past several months:

student teaching!

From mid January to early May, I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time student teaching in a northern New Jersey suburban high school. I taught American history and an American history through film course. It was both an exhilarating and challenging experience. Now I’m in the process of looking for a job. Wish me luck!

By the way, I expect to update this blog more frequently now that I have the time to do so.

Wish me luck!

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Here’s a fact for you: Half of the world’s population live on two dollars a day or less. Keep that in mind when you feel as though you’re life isn’t going as planned or circumstances didn’t develop the way you had hoped.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs is on a mission. Leading after a brief forward by U2’s Bono, Dr. Sachs calls upon the Western governments to increase their foreign aid and investment in the extreme impoverished areas of the world. Lacking the infrastructure necessary for a modern functioning state, the poorest of the poor do not possess even an economic foundation upon which to build. The End of Poverty (Penguin, 2005) is Sachs’ soapbox that calls for a complete eradication of extreme poverty by 2025.

The first half of the book feels part-memoir, as Sachs described how his work shifted from traditional market-based, Western-focused economics to international development. Time spent at Harvard gave him the credentials and connections to advise the Bolivian government on its much-troubled economy. It was here where he started to realize the inefficiencies of the IMF and the World Bank, those two maligned international financial systems that are mostly accused of siding more with Western interests than in helping the poor. From there, Sachs moved on to Poland, Russia, China, and India, where he worked to stabilize monetary systems and battle Washington for donor aid. Sachs’s efforts won some hard-fought battles, as in the case of Poland–where a Zloty Stabilization Fund helped control currency conversions and prevented. He was also not so lucky with other countries. For instance, Russia’s economy lapsed just after the cold war because of the U.S.’s reluctance to finance its former rival, and the shock therapy prescriptions that economist recommended had the unintended consequences of privatizing state-controlled enterprises in hands of a privileged few.

The remaining chapters focus on the causes of extreme poverty and the solutions needed to elevate their countries’ economies. Sachs especially focuses on Africa, where HIV/AIDS, malaria, dysentery, measles, mumps, rubella, and a host of other preventable diseases ravage the population. It is truly a shame that a little preventive medicine and some drugs that are relatively inexpensive in the West are all that is needed; yet millions die because Africa cannot afford the cost. The lack of infrastructure is also problematic for an economy, since goods need to be transported and this proves difficult without adequate roads and communication. Geographic elements can also be a drain, especially in landlocked countries. Look at any map today and you will see the wealthiest areas have easy access to navigable waters.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are also heavily discussed, since Professor Sachs was an advisor to then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The MDGs include halving the number of people who live in extreme poverty by 2015. This is possible, Sachs contends, but only until Western governments—especially the U.S.—fork up the money where their mouths are. The UN General Assembly wishes the West to contribute 0.7% of GNP to the MDGs. Currently, the U.S. is roughly 0.15-0.20%.

Sachs is optimistic and so was I until I read what Sachs demands what is required from the U.S. Roughly 80-100 billion dollars is needed for the next 10 or so years. This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. I try to be an optimistic person, but aside from the Marshall Plan in World War II, the U.S. has never made such a financial commitment. The U.S. promotes capitalism as its culture, and capitalism does not spend on what it feasibly cannot calculate a return on its investment. Sachs convincingly makes a case that raising the per capita income of extremely poor countries will engender a platform of infrastructure, health, and education needed for growth–and that such growth can only help the global economy—but I find it difficult to imagine Sachs convincing the U.S. government to fork over such a large sum of money. The U.S. would rather spend such money on wars that it cannot win.

So where do we stand on the good life? I imagine that if you’re reading this, you are not living in extreme poverty—that is, you make more than 2 dollars a day. Take note that even if your circumstances seem unfortunate, there are others out there are who are even more in need, and could help from your service.
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In my free time, I like to lurk around the popular travel message boards. Web sites like BootsnAll and Lonely Planet are loaded with thousands of travelers visiting all sorts of places around the world, from Belize to Beijing and everything in between.

Maybe it’s just the daydreamer in me but I love the idea of visiting new places and experiencing new cultures. Many regulars on the travel message boards have even traveled around the world and it’s gotten to the point where a niche RTW (round-the-world) market has developed.

Now, round-the-world travel may be a little beyond my reach at this point in my life but during my tenure on this planet I’ve been to some places, and plan on traveling to more. I’ve spent a semester living in England and even managed to travel across the Channel to spend some time in France. I’ve been to the Bahamas a couple of times, cruised to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada with my family to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday, and visited a few states.

Unfortunately, like millions of other working stiffs I am entrenched in the corporate rat race. On one hand my job gives me enough vacation time to travel at least once a year; on the other hand I only travel once a year. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to travel more in the future. We’ll see.

In my opinion, traveling is not so much a description of getting from point A to point B; instead it’s a state of mind. Travel allows you to get in touch with yourself while discovering your environment.

For the summer of ‘08, I’m planning my next trip: my honeymoon in Italy. We haven’t worked out the details just yet, but we hope to manage a couple of weeks. Let’s hope that dollars-to-euro exchange rate narrows a bit. If not, maybe I should be looking for a cheap deal in Southeast Asia instead.
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The role of government in defining the good life is the subject of The Politics by Aristotle. Like his predecessor Plato, Aristotle sought to find the best type of constitution under which any given people could live. His conclusion: a mixed constitution (one that is neither fully an oligarchy or a democracy) provides the most stability and gives the population the greatest chance for the good life.

What is the good life according to Aristotle? In many ways his definition is similar to Plato’s. The good life is one of virtue. Good actions, said Aristotle, lead to individual fulfillment. But what are good actions? They are those that promote the well-being of the individual. To use today’s spiritual terminology, good actions promote the mind, body, and spirit. Excessive indulgences corrupt all three; activities that strengthen each leads to a life of virtue.

Balance may be a necessary component of virtue, but, according to Aristotle, is insufficient. To be virtuous, one must also recognize one’s place in society and meet those demands. For example, a hard-working slave is virtuous if he satisfactorily performs his duties for his master. Conversely, if a master mistreats on obeying and loyal slave, he is not virtuous. In sum, each has a role in society. To be virtuous, one should fulfill that role.

In that regard, the most virtuous constitution is that which leads the most people to the good life. Here Aristotle was more of a realist. He did not seek to define an unattainable utopia as Plato did. Citing historical events (most of which I am unaware and some are not known outside of the text), Aristotle pieces the best of the constitutions in his contemporary Greece. He found that the ideal monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy are unstable in the long run, and eventually will degrade into tyranny, oligarchy, and anarchy, respectively. According to Aristotle, the best form of government is one of a mixed constitution, what he called “polity.” A polity is not necessarily made up of equal parts monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, but rather, the most powerful faction gives some leeway to the other factions in order to promote stability.

Above all, I liked Aristotle’s Politics. Aristotle’s constitutional ideas were revolutionary and influenced many throughout history, including America’s founding fathers. His ideas on public education, for example, were still radical even in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. Still, I found his writing style obscure and difficult (perhaps it was the translation; unfortunately I cannot read ancient Greek) and his attacks on Plato seemed unfounded. In sum, read The Republic instead. Plato is better.

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Testing My Passions

Since I work in publishing, I have access to a lot of books. One that came across my path was The Passion Test by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood. This one struck a chord because, although there are many self-help and inspirational books out there, Janet and Chris’s book has specific activities you can use to define your passions and measure them. The book helps you to list your passions and rank them accordingly. Then it teaches you to focus your energy into your top passions.

After building a list with over 20 different passions, I iterated through my list and ranked my top five. The Attwoods then encourage you to write your passions down on note cards and post them wherever you frequent most. Here is what I came up with:

My Passion Test
09-25-2007

When my life is ideal I am:
1. Having a sense of contentment and inner peace.
2. Being a caring partner for my fiancé, my future wife.
3. Traveling to places that are new and interesting to me, where I will embrace a host of fascinating experiences.
4. Thinking about great philosophies and ideas.
5. Writing about the topics, philosophies, and issues I care about.
This or something better!

During the exercise, I discovered plenty more passions, including caring for others and pursuing photography. However The Passion Test stresses that the reader should only concentrate on the top five passions (at least for six months) so as not to spread oneself too thin. So for now these are my highest passions.

One of the most unique activities in The Passion Test is writing your speech on your 100th birthday. Here you are to mention all of the wonderful and exciting moments of a century’s worth of living. The point is not to build a “wish” list—in fact, the authors almost always avoid the words “wish” and “want.” The goal of the 100th birthday exercise and the others in the book are to convince you to believe your passions are already within your capabilities.

I’m still working out the kinks of my birthday speech, but as soon as I work them out, I’ll post it online. I’ll also give a more comprehensive review once I finish the book, including on how (or if) The Passion Test gave me a new perspective on life.

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Since I work in publishing, I have access to a lot of books. One that came across my path was The Passion Test by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood. This one struck a chord because, although there are many self-help and inspirational books out there, Janet and Chris’s book has specific activities you can use to define your passions and measure them. The book helps you to list your passions and rank them accordingly. Then it teaches you to focus your energy into your top passions.

After building a list with over 20 different passions, I iterated through my list and ranked my top five. The Attwoods then encourage you to write your passions down on note cards and post them wherever you frequent most. Here is what I came up with:

My Passion Test
09-25-2007

When my life is ideal I am:
1. Having a sense of contentment and inner peace.
2. Being a caring partner for my fiancé, my future wife.
3. Traveling to places that are new and interesting to me, where I will embrace a host of fascinating experiences.
4. Thinking about great philosophies and ideas.
5. Writing about the topics, philosophies, and issues I care about.
This or something better!

During the exercise, I discovered plenty more passions, including caring for others and pursuing photography. However The Passion Test stresses that the reader should only concentrate on the top five passions (at least for six months) so as not to spread oneself too thin. So for now these are my highest passions.

One of the most unique activities in The Passion Test is writing your speech on your 100th birthday. Here you are to mention all of the wonderful and exciting moments of a century’s worth of living. The point is not to build a “wish” list—in fact, the authors almost always avoid the words “wish” and “want.” The goal of the 100th birthday exercise and the others in the book are to convince you to believe your passions are already within your capabilities.

I’m still working out the kinks of my birthday speech, but as soon as I work them out, I’ll post it online. I’ll also give a more comprehensive review once I finish the book, including on how (or if) The Passion Test gave me a new perspective on life.
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