NOT a “Binary Proposition”

My corporate masters recently promoted me (after only ten years since my last promotion) from “analyst” to “manager.”  The money is better than before, of course – not quite as much as I had been hoping for, and still not enough to cover what I lost from part-time teaching.  But at least I am back to working forty (instead of fifty) hours a week to make ends meet, freeing up those ten extra hours for other satisfying non-financial pursuits, e.g., art, music, reading and writing.

The company regularly holds “new leader” manager orientations, for both the new and others looking to improve their managerial skills.  I attended one last week, a two-day session that ran the gamut from reviewing the company’s “leadership model” to role-playing sessions of how to work with those you manage to engage them and make them feel they are a valued member of the team.  It was all good information, even for someone who’s never been particularly fond of authority figures, and who doesn’t relish the idea of being an authority figure now.  See what I do for money?

On the morning of the second day we considered the company’s five “leadership model” metrics, with a view towards gaining a means of evaluating our charges’ performance with respect to those metrics.  Of particular concern to one individual, who made up in bravado what he lacked in humility, was how to evaluate his employee’s performance with respect to the company’s ethics metric, expressed by the phrase “[we] Live Our Values.”  He understood how things like business results, innovation, etc. admit of degrees.  When it came to living values, though, he remarked, “How do you evaluate whether someone is ‘living rightly’?  You either are living that way or you aren’t – it’s a binary proposition!”  To which 21 of the other 22 “new leaders” in the room laughed in (what I thought was) agreement.

This both annoyed and angered me – annoyed insofar as living well is NOT a binary proposition and angered because it didn’t seem to me that anyone in the room recognized what the implications are of believing this either/or claim.

Regarding “living well” (living “morally” or “rightly” or “righteously,” and not necessarily “prosperously”) as an either/or matter implies there is some threshold that one either does or doesn’t meet.  It further implies there is no such thing as the possibility of improving one’s own moral character – one either is a good person or one isn’t.  It also suggests a certain timelessness about that moral character – if one is a good person today how can one not be a good person tomorrow?

An “either/or” approach to the idea of living well is both a symptom and a cause of deficient intellectual imagination.  A complicated, messy world cannot begin to be managed with any degree of satisfaction with a simple thumb up or down.  I found it disconcerting that those who strive day after day to improve the company’s financial well-being would not see the same necessity for doing likewise with the intrinsic value of living well.

See what we do for money.  What do we do for each other, for our greater good, for love?

Is An Examined Life Worth Living?

Those of us who love philosophy cannot help but wonder, at least once in a while, whether philosophy is relevant, even necessary, to live today. But we may be blinded by our love of the discipline—to the contemporary world’s eyes, philosophy is at best a plain, dull, and uninviting subject.

It seems there isn’t anything our contemporary world cannot do better or with greater satisfaction in spheres of human activity than philosophical reflection. When the goal of human action is “results,” like those we expect of science, or art, or commerce, philosophy pales by comparison.

We might want to argue for the claim that philosophy’s only value, the only reason why anyone should spend extended amounts of time and energy with it, are the practical benefits its students can bring to a shop-weary world.

While most folks may not have any formal, “professional” acquaintance with the discipline, they do have a natural preponderance for reflecting upon the ordinary, everyday world. That is, upon their ordinary, everyday worlds. When academics try to remind us how much better our lives would be if only we would set just aside a few tasks that are not nearly as important as the life of the mind, we shrug and tell them they don’t have a clue what the “real world” is about.

Humans have a natural inclination to ask why. If we can do that at our leisure, in the small, quiet moments that give us a chance to put together the stories of our lives, we are (for lack of a better word) happy. Academics annoy the rest of us when they refuse to recognize that: 1) in the great curriculum of life, philosophy is an elective, not a required course; and 2) we already examine and critique our lives, we don’t want or need your “help,” thank you very much.