Monday, January 31, 2011

My Philosophy of Life

I present my philosophy of life here in hopes it will encourage you to more consciously decide how you want to live yours.

I believe the best way to live my life is to spend as many waking moments as possible using my best skills (thinking, writing, and speaking) on causes I deeply care about that don't comport with conventional wisdom.

Thus while I am pro-choice and pro gay marriage, others already exert tremendous effort on those. My efforts would be like adding a grain of sand onto a beach.

It feels more worthwhile to debunk the conventional wisdom, for example, that:
Alas, in choosing to take on unpopular causes, I'm fighting tidal waves with a thimble. That's one reason I'm usually sort of sad, but I'd be sadder if I reallocated time to other pursuits.

To give myself some successes, I do career coaching and speak and write on career-related matters, and pursue social change in one politically correct way: promoting peer mentoring, which was popular in the '80s but gave way to the next innovation du jour.

So, what's your philosophy of life, your approach to living the life well-led?


Anonymous said...

Marty - I think you need to convince people the wisdom of concentrating resources on people deemed (by who? I might add) to have the potential to bring the greatest good to society. What's your proposal on how that would work without turning into some Gattica-like scenario where people are doomed to serfdom and imperfect human beings misclassify the less able. You already have a proposal on how to improve higher education. I think it 's time to explain your vision on primary education for gifted/high-potential children and what to do with those that are learning disabled, behaviorally challenged, and have come from subcultures where education is not valued or ridiculed. Otherwise you will come across as some elitist.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Your philosophy is admirable, Marty.

My philosophy?

In an evermore insane world, live a more inward life: Stay fit; enjoy family and home life; read; seek out simple pleasures. Don't argue with people who aren't going to budge. Don't spend more than you make. Don't expect more things to make you more happy.

It's working out OK.

Anonymous said...

My philosophy is quite simple (being a bear of little brain.)

Live deeply, laugh often and love always. I tell this to my kids frequently because it IS short and concise.

On my signature line on emails I have this: May I have the courage today to live the life that I would love, to postpone my dream no longer but do at last what I came here for and waste my heart on fear no more. John O'Donohue

Justin Wehr said...


I was interested to hear in your podcast today that you see philosophies of life as on a continuum from hedonism to work/productivity. I think it would be more accurate to say the continuum is from hedonism to meaning, and people will have different things that give them meaning just as they have different things that give them pleasure. Work/productivity may be a popular option (and it’s one I happen to care about), but it’s not the only one – spirituality comes to mind.

But I think it would be more accurate still to say that it’s not a continuum between hedonism and meaning at which we have to stake out one point, but rather that they are two separate dimensions and not necessarily mutually exclusive. The life best lived, I’d say, is one that combines pleasure with meaning.

And since you asked, what maximizes my pleasure + meaning quotient is creating never-before-tried things that enrich people’s relationships and mental lives.

Jeffrie said...

I wandered back to your "Last Lecture" post from a few years ago. What I posted there would also serve as my philosophy of life, so I will repost it here:

-Whatever you're worried about right now, the chances are very high that it will not matter in the future, and that you'll forget about it sooner than you think. Most everything that occupies us is trivial. If, at anytime in your life, you find anything that truly matters to you, that you are very passionate about or spend most of your time thinking about, then focus as much time as you can on that. Especially if it makes a difference in the world. The rest is just background noise.

-You are not entitled to anything in the world. Not one person owes you anything, and the world would go on without you, for better or for worse, without your presence. There's nothing wrong with asking for help if you honestly need help, but if there is something you want to have or achieve, rely on yourself first. There is no better way to boost your self-esteem (if you need that sort of thing) than working and earning something yourself.

-Pay some attention to the people that truly matter to you, as well. Even the most social, most extroverted person has only a handful of people that really matter to them. If you are fortunate enough to know such people, treasure them for as long as they remain in your life, because one day you will be out of each other's lives.

-Take just a little time to think about what you're doing with your life. There are some people in the world that do some serious damage while they're here, and sometimes they don't realize it until the damage is done. They may not be happy with themselves or what they've done when they come to the end of their lives. I know for myself that I do not want to be in that situation when my time comes.

I'll add one more thing, something a dear friend reminded me of a few days ago:

-Give it all. Whatever you have in you, give it all, whether you're performing or at work.

Marty Nemko said...

I AM an elitist. I believe that all people, by virtue of being human, are entitled to the basics. But I would invest more in those with the greatest potential. Key would, indeed, be classes that were ability-grouped, at least for academic subjects. Of course, students could be moved up or down as appropriate, and I'd urge teachers to be particularly careful with regards to students of color, lest they be unfairly put in classes of lower level than they deserve. (Candidly, I don't believe teachers very often do that but better to urge excess caution.)

Marty Nemko said...

Justin, I do not believe spirituality has value anywhere near as great as productivity. I know people who espouse all sorts of spiritual beliefs, indeed go beyond espousing to meditating, attending religious services, and fancy themselves spiritual beings but leave the earth no better and often worse than when they arrived. I stand by my contention that the key continuum is between hedonism and productivity.

AcquaDiGio said...

These are all very positive. What about when you screw up? I like the concepts from the 12 Steps about making amends to people we've harmed, continuing to take personal inventory and promptly admitting when we are wrong.

Because of our egos, these are the hardest things to do -- to present ourselves humbly to the people we've injured. Sometimes the wrongs we commit are subtle, so they are easy to blow off -- because they don't matter to us, we convince ourselves they don't matter to the other person. But my philosophy is that even the small things count. They are the measure of one's integrity.

I like your dad's philosophy to always look forward, never look back (though sometimes it seems like it's the perpetrators in life who find this philosophy most appealing!)

We must always ask, "What's the ethical thing to do?" when we impact someone. It often involves putting ourselves in the other person's shoes or asking them directly, "What would make this right for you?" (Sometimes we think we know what our offense is but we're completely wrong. Owning up to things helps gets the facts straight, too.)

And on the other side: When I find myself too easily offended, I ask, a la Buddhism, "How would this change if I took ego/Self out of the equation?" If there were no one to be offended, there would be no offense.

Sloth is a demon indeed. So is pride. Slay both. Otherwise, people might be grateful for your contribution to the world, but find you impossible to be around. Peace.

K-Man said...

Anonymous of 31 January 2011 11:12 am seems to consider giving appropriately stimulating education to gifted and talented children "elitist". He/she questions what we would do "with those that are learning disabled, behaviorally challenged, and have come from subcultures where education is not valued or ridiculed".

The real elitism is in wasting massive amounts of money as we now do on the latter group. Public school systems have been held liable in court for paying for special private schooling for autistics, retards, et al., often at over $100,000 per year apiece, well above the average cost to educate the average student in that school system—with most of these "students" never able to learn much of anything. A famous case involving New York schools a few years ago resulted in just such a verdict. Big bucks spent on students who cannot learn: now that's elitist.

But gifted programs have been cut or eliminated altogether nationwide, or (the same end result) the school will resist classifying a student as gifted. Former Colorado governor Richard Lamm decried the situation, noting in the early 1980s when $10K was more like real money that the state spent that much per year to teach—and reteach, and reteach, and reteach ad infinitum—tards to roll over. Federal law requires this, and must be changed.

"Learning disabled"? Work with them in separate classrooms to the limits of their abilities, but place a cap on how much the school is liable for spending at, say, 1.5 times the average education cost per pupil in that district.

"Behaviorally challenged"? Corporal punishment as needed for acting out, combined with investigations by social services into why their parents are so clearly unfit.

"From a subculture [read: parent(s)] where education is not valued or ridiculed"? After enough chances to straighten out and learn, the rugrat gets microchipped to allow constant tracking to protect the public, then is assigned to a work camp after parental rights are terminated. He/she stays in the camp doing necessary public projects such as road repair until such time as he/she decides to "act white", try again, and earn a GED.

Having any of these people roam the streets unfettered should not be an option, again to protect the public. If this be Gattica–style "elitism", so be it. We've had too much of irresponsible and uneducable people harming the law-abiding and costing taxpayers $$$$$ for me to care about their fate or their "rights" any more. As Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson noted, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."

We have a choice. We can follow Marty's suggestion to nurture those bright children who have a chance of finding solutions to our energy needs, a cure for cancer, or the next positive life enhancement for the public; or we can keep funneling big bucks to those children whose best ability will always be in pooping their pants or committing violence. It isn't coincidence that US society seems to be getting worse by the day as a result of present policies.

Anonymous said...

@K-Man - I don't consider "consider giving appropriately stimulating education to gifted and talented children "elitist".

It's the POLITICAL REALITY that such a position will get you labeled with the oft-negative description of "elitist" which, by the way, shuts people down to consider your position. I for one do think we should spend more on the more-motivated segments of the population that are held back by the more negative elements. I believe that any kind of government welfare check should be accompanied with the caveat of birth control (preferably permanent) as a pre-condition to receive benefits and the requirement to gain job skills. It should expire at a given time without being renewable unless your suffer a medical condition that was unavoidable.

The reality is also that you can't wish away, ship away, or put in concentration camps the less desirable people of society. That's the point that you have to address when you propose to spend the majority of resources on those deemed to benefit society the most, which is Marty's position.

It's what rational argumenters do: they play devil's advocate to fully explore their reasoning.

K-Man said...

Anonymous, thanks for your excellent clarification of your views.

What I am proposing for the more negative elements that will not or cannot learn is a type of custodial management. We seem as a society to have been more than happy to wash our hands of them by allowing them to roam the streets at will, and cost and victimize the taxpayers at large. That is no solution either.

The problem is that the state and (especially) federal governments have been ever more quickly building a surveillance and police state to ensnare all of us and limit our freedoms, for law-abiding and ruffians alike. The latter group should have been specifically targeted for these measures many years ago and the rest of us spared, but now we're all under the microscope. Your local cop with his paramilitary training treats a law-abiding middle-class high-IQ taxpayer just as poorly and thuggishly as he would a near-retard methhead murderer. We're all perps to the cop, no matter how upstanding we are. It wasn't always this way.

We have also been all too happy to have squandered vast amounts of human potential by giving short shrift to the gifted and talented. A pervasive egalitarianism in the schools and a strong anti-intellectual streak among the public are to blame for most of this. The waste of talent boggles the mind. (I am one such who was gifted, with a genius-level IQ, but the school system couldn't be bothered and my working class parents were too poor and intimidated by the system to be able to do much.) How much better off would society be if we hadn't followed such asinine policies against the bright?

We are now reaping what we have sown. It is too late to enact Marty's suggestions anyway. The US is in a death spiral thanks in part to the policies he justly criticizes. Turning around gifted education today would be too little, too late, I fear.

Brian said...

Honestly, I don't think most people have a philosophy of life, at least not a conscious one. Most people are followers and are just trying to fit in. They're not hedonists per se - they're just avoiding pain. They take the path well-traveled, doing what is socially acceptable. They "live for the weekend" and the comfort of their social circles...

I don't think we should begrudge them their pleasures. After all, we need contributing members of society. Leaders need followers...

When asked about the meaning of life, many of these people will say "family". I think this is a philosophical dead end. Because if you dedicate your life to your family, sacrificing everything else, what are you teaching your kids? That they should repeat the cycle? At what point does someone get off the merry-go-round and say: "No. My family is very important and I will sacrifice when it's necessary but more important is my life's work, what I leave behind. And I want my kids to find their muse just as I did."

And I guess that's my philosophy of life in a nutshell. To create something original. To work harder than anyone else at it. To leave a legacy. That's goal #1. Everything else is secondary.