Thoughts on Making a Living

Month: January 2018

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Confucius on the Higher Type of Man

In my morning reading, I stumbled upon two very different passages that presented a  great connection for me.

Confucius, from The Analects – Book II, Chapter XII

The Master said; “The higher type of man is not a machine.”

and Book II, Chapter XV

The Master said: “Learning without thinking is useless. Thinking without learning is dangerous.”

I think these two concepts go to the heart of the modern work world where many fear having their jobs eaten by robots or software. The first is something that all of us need to remember. The higher state of man is not a machine. Let that sink in. We are not machines. We were meant for much more. BUT, we must get over the idea that we can think our way out of the current environment without a true education on the meaning of life and the meaning of work. We must examine where we have been as a people and examine our souls for what is meaningful. Pay, beyond subsistence, is not meaningful. Work that nourishes our soul is meaningful. Work that can be done by robots or software is not meaningful, unless you add something to it that the robot or software can’t do, like empathy or creativity.

Following the post-WWII path to the workplace is high-stakes and increasingly dangerous. What I mean by the “post-WWII path” is doing what everyone else does, because the historical statistics point to it and believing you are a genius for following a formula, i.e. learning without thinking & thinking without learning. However, when everyone tries to follow the formula, it cannot, by definition, lead to higher than average performance in work or happiness. And when the formula requires 5 & 6 figure debt, it is high stakes and dangerous.

Which leads me to this passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance,

If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges and is not installed in an office in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York [or Silicon Valley, Ed.], it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont [or Kansas or Tennessee, Ed.], who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. [Sounds like a New Yeoman, no? Ed.]

My point? Conventional Wisdom says everyone should go to college, get good grades, regardless of what is learned, and then get a “good” job. It worked for the majority from the 1940s to approximately 1999. Things have changed, but our learning has not kept up. Everyone going to university and then saying, “But I did what I was told was the smart thing!” when things don’t go as planned is not a successful strategy now … or in Confucius’ or Emerson’s times.

Consider becoming a New Yeoman instead.

Photo credits:
Confucius – By Anonymous Chinese painter of the Western Han period [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Emerson – By Schoff, Stephen Alonzo, 1818-1904, engraver. Rowse, Samuel Worcester, 1822-1901, artist. (Library of Congress[1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now is the Contest

For all of you that are determined to join the New Yeomans in 2018, here is some inspiration;

“And if anything laborious, or pleasant or glorious or inglorious be presented to you, remember that now is the contest, now are the Olympic games, and they cannot be deferred; and that it depends on one defeat and one giving way that progress is either lost or maintained.” — Epictetus, #50, Enchiridion

Get after it.

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