As is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, human males have been in charge of pretty much everything over the past 400 millennia and have pretty much managed to screw it all up. The underlying problem, given the consistency of this sad legacy, not to mention its enormity, would appear to be inherent to the Y chromosome, which, although puny in size relative to its Queen Bee counterpart, the X chromosome, would appear to be disproportionately predisposed toward wreaking havoc upon “every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” What to do? Indeed, how much more havoc and mayhem can our stricken world bear before all the chickens, having escaped from their factory cages, come home to roost? Drawing from Poor Richard’s Lament, this timely talk offers a radical alternative to ‘business as usual.’
A Roadmap for an Amicable Separation of the Blue States from the Red StatesWhat right did Mr. Lincoln have to prevent the South from breaking away from the Union in 1861? Was it the same right George III had to prevent the American colonies from breaking away from the Empire in 1776? Consider in this regard the deep divides that exist today between roughly the same demographics of 150 years ago, over such issues as global climate change, abortion, school prayer, immigration, creationism, big government, compromise, social safety nets, environmental degradation, fracking, minimum wage, regulation, gay marriage, euthanasia, trickle-down economics, gun control, Common Core, and American Exceptionalism, to name some of the more obvious issues. Might these deep divides, in fact, represent irreconcilable differences? Might it be time to say good-bye: the Blue States to the Red States; the Red States to the Blue States?
Ben Franklin’s Big Boo-BooIn his famous Autobiography, Ben Franklin proffers 13 virtues as ‘necessary or desirable.’ Necessary or desirable toward what, Franklin does not explicitly tell us. With Industry and Frugality leading the pack, however, Order and Resolution in close company, one can fairly infer what Franklin intended: If we want to be materially successful in this world, we had better comport ourselves in accordance with Ben’s 13 virtues. In short, we had better tend to business. Two hundred-plus years later, the fruits of tending to business are plain to see – an SUV in every driveway, a Weber on every patio, a wide-screen TV in every media room, a smartphone in every pocket, a sartorial surfeit in every closet, a strip mall in every burb, and so on and so on. If we will look, we also see something else, do we not? Expediency trumping principle, for example? Self-indulgence trumping public service? Career trumping family? Ambition trumping restraint? The profitable trumping the ethical? Accumulation trumping contribution? Rights trumping responsibilities? Despoliation trumping preservation? ‘Me’ trumping ‘thee’? Is there a link here? Are we perhaps ‘tending to business’ a bit too much? Did the good doctor miss something?
We live in a time when opportunities to realize personal fulfillment are limited and diminishing. In the past, our forebears, especially the more distant of these, could depend on two natural sources of personal fulfillment – work and relationship. In our time, however, these ancient wellsprings of true happiness have become all but lost to us. Indeed, what do ‘TGIF,’ ‘twenty and out,’ ‘burnout,’ ‘work to rule,’ and ‘early retirement’ suggest about the nature of work today; what do ‘ex,’ ‘significant other’, ‘chat room’, ‘hookup,’ and ‘Facebook friend’ suggest about the nature of relationship? In attempting to compensate for the loss of fulfillment in our lives, many of us have unwittingly fallen into a trap: Confusing psychic emptiness with hunger, pleasure with happiness, we have set into motion a vicious cycle, a downward spiral, from which we are finding it increasingly difficult to extricate ourselves. Using the income we derive from work that fails to fulfill us, we attempt to compensate by pleasuring ourselves, largely through the consumption of material things. In doing this, however, instead of filling the void within, we seem only to deepen it. Around and around we go – down, down we go. Based on Beyond Chicken Soup: Toward a life worth all the considerable bother, this talk exposes the insidious workings of the pleasure trap and offers us a way out.
We live in a world in which mentors, crones, medicine men, role models, and elders – traditionally every community’s repositories of wisdom – are increasingly unavailable to us, not only when we are young and callow but also later in life, when we are fully fledged. How, then, are we to find our individual and collective way in the world? Who is to point us in the right direction? Who is to instruct us on how to get there? Based on Gabriel: King of Hearts, this talk serves to remind us of the oracle that dwells within every human being. The problem inherent to finding one’s way, this talk presupposes, is not so much a matter of not knowing what we need to know as it is a matter of not trusting what we already know.
We sons and daughters of Puritanism and the Protestant Ethic seem particularly taken with the aphorism (a genre Ben Franklin defined as ‘moral sentences, prudent maxims, and wise sayings’). We salt our speeches and homilies with them. We collect them in our desk drawers. We hang them on the walls of our kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and offices. We send greeting cards inscribed with them. We introduce books and chapters with them. We weave them into songs and anthems. We wear T-shirts emblazoned with them. We append them at the end of our e-mails. One notable figure of history once upon a time included them in his popular Almanacks. This talk uses a potpourri of ‘moral sentences, prudent Maxims, and wise sayings’ from Food 4 Thought to stimulate introspection and discourse on a wide range of subjects. A few examples:
If puffballs were to choose the most beautiful puffball of all, would they choose one round and fat, or one lean and tall?
Women who fail with men seek the counsel of psychotherapists. Men who fail with women become psychotherapists.
What if, instead of saying “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” FDR had said, “I never had sexual relations with that woman…Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Humility is the last lesson learned, the first forgot.
If pleasure has no meaning in the absence of its opposite, and vice versa, what are we to make of eternal bliss?