Monday, June 23, 2014

Philosopher Ruth Yang and hard choices

In her TED talk, Ruth Yang of the Rutgers University philosophy department discusses hard choices.  She defines such choices as big ones such as what career to go into, choices where the options are all attractive, all have benefits and none dominates the choice to the point where it is clearly the best.  She makes the point that agonizing and fretting over which is best is often a waste of time.  There may not be a best one.

I have seen a similar phenomenon in classes on personal reading.  I used to ask the class members to list 5 or 10 of the best books they have read.  For some people, those who have read many books with pleasure and profit, it can be difficult to assess which small set of books was THE best.  Now, I just ask for 5-10 books that come to mind without looking up any records and which are remembered as moving and engaging.  Forget which is "best".

When the peas aren't growing, a good book on Darko Dawson, the detective in the capital city of Ghana is not such a helpful choice.  When you are ready to read a good story, books on pea diseases won't satisfy.

But Yang has a deeper point: don't forget that choosing a career is done by an agent.  YOU are choosing a career or your grandchild is.  What the chooser puts into the career makes the difference.  It is often at this point that grandfatherly advice pops up.  Try hard.  What you put your hand to, give it all your might.  Be diligent. This grandfather believes that such advice is good but overdone, to the detriment of other valuable variables.

My stepfather gave me an article by the famous Bruce Barton when I was in junior high.  Barton advised Be thorough, Concentrate and Stand at the head of your English class.  Good advice which I have thought of over the years and often referred to.  But other principles and efforts matter today, not just sweat.  Pursuing a lover, a career, health, wealth are all affected by daily meditation, by staying current and reading both broadly and professionally.  In all life's activities, one's personality, ability to spot opportunities and emotional intelligence matter as much or more than simple effort.

The Gallup organization did some research a few years ago and found that many of the most successful organizations worldwide did more to find their people's strengths and then set them to work at tasks using those strengths than did less successful organizations.  The more common approach was to try to figure out what was needed by the organization and then simply assign a worker to the task, with little regard for that worker's talents and skills.

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