Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, February 23, 2009

Life 101

In his book, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, philosophy professor William Irvine says many people have trouble naming their grand goal in living. Do you? In other words, of the things in life you might pursue -- fame, fortune, love, self-realization, social change, escape, wisdom, power -- which is the thing you believe to be most valuable? Why? Do you consider the thing to be ethical?

Your response is due by noon, Wed., Jan. 27.

22 comments:

Jennifer said...

I think this question is very important, especially at this point in my life. The past four years in college have allowed me a time for specific concentration on my studies and also time to grow and become the person I am today. Leaving this comfort zone stirs feelings of excitement, fear and wonder as I move into the next stage of my life. What that is, at this point, I am unsure, and where my life will take me from here is not quite clear. Although I don't have a specific path paved out for the rest of my life, I do know certain things that I hope to be there along the way. Such things I find to be most valuable to exist in the life I wish to lead. With hesitance of sounding cheesy, the number one value in my life is love. As long as I live my life in a way that allows love to exist, I believe it will fuel me in all that I do. I'm speaking of love in a broad range: love for a significant other, love for friends, love for what I choose to do, compassion, in general, for those who I encounter throughout life. I think that with love, people lead their lives more honestly, openly, and truly. I believe it is the one thing that can survive and flourish against the odds. As John Lennon said, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

I hope this is along the lines of what you were looking for in response to this question.

Howie Good said...

Yes, Jen, it's exactly the kind of response I'm hoping for.

Tyler said...

My mom recently got me a Zen Calendar for Christmas. It's one of those day-by-day things with witty sayings on it. She gets one for me every year, and usually I tear off the days for about two weeks, then I forget about it. But this calendar has revealed to me very enlightening, inspiring things.
For this question, I'd like to reference the quote from February 20th: "If you are not happy here and now, you will never be." - Taisen Deshimaru. This quote reinforces how I try to live my life every day, and explains the thing in life I believe to be most valuable: happiness. I have always believed that with happiness, or at least a feeling of it, the rest of life tends to fall into place. It's beautiful, and I believe that other things people strive for, such as love, only fall into place when they've reached a certain level of happiness.
To take a further Buddhist perspective on it, I would say my grand goal in life is to reach nirvana. That is, to be free from the pain or worry of the external world. I might never know if such an amazing experience even exists, but if it is my grand goal, wouldn't that mean that everything after is just boring? I'd prefer never to reach nirvana, and keep striving to be happy "here and now." If it all falls into place, I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

Thank you for this question - really let me reflect on my life.

Deidre Drewes said...

Do I have a grand goal in life? No. I have certain things that I value and want to get out of life that are rewarding, but I look ten years ahead I cannot put a finger on what I'd like to be doing. I know I'd like to travel...which is where hard work and a decent-paying career come into play. I know I want to be happy with my life. I may have a bucket list of things I'd like to accomplish before I die...but an ultimate goal is impossible for me to describe.

I know I don't want to have wasted thousands of dollars and my college education just to stay working at a miserable job in retail sales. I know I don't want to have poor health. I would like to have friends that are just as amazing as the ones I have now, a healthy family (and by that I mean my existing family, no children in my future). What I truly value in life is happiness at no expense to others.

Scott Broskie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howie Good said...

a good job, a big house, a nice car, a beautiful partner, above-average kids, etc., aren't so much goals of life as they are things one acquires (or doesn't) in the course of a life. of course, you could turn things into a set of grand goals, but then one would never actually reach those goals, because acquisition is no end -- there's always a bigger house, nicer car, better job.

If one doesn't have a grand goal -- or a plain old goal -- then in which direction does one steer?

Bridget said...

Above all other things I want to be independent. To me independence means a lot of things. It means that I will never rely on someone else to make me happy. Happiness comes from me and the decisions I make in my life, not from someone else's decision to be a part of my life. It means never relying on the income of someone else. I remember being forced to move when I was a kid because Mom didn't have a decent job, and Dad got caught in the layoffs that were common in the 90's. I never want to be in the situation of being forced out of someplace I love (or to someplace I hate) because I can't support myself. Independence, to me, is the freedom to make my own choices. To go and do what I want in my life. And no matter if I end up marrying someone or being alone, living in a house or a small apartment, having kids or just cats, I always want to maintain a measure of autonomy.

Matthew Conti said...

It is very hard to say what my grand goal in life would be. Of course the good job, nice stuff and a great partner are great and all, but like we mentioned they are not goals rather they are things we acquire. If I really thought about it, my grand goal in life would have to be to have a fiery passion for the things that I do. I want to wake up in the morning and just have this passion for my work, my partner, and of course life. I think that passion for life is very important because being apathetic and not really liking what you are doing is not a life worth living. If you do not like your job then why wake up in the morning to work. If you are not passionate about your partner then what stops you from walking out on them and leave them alone. And if you are not passionate about your life why wake up at all. So in the end I think that my grand goal of life is to be passionate.

Howie Good said...

Is there something wrong with a system of education or a culture that leaves its participants unable or unwilling to articulate life goals beyond the mere material? If we lived in a society where people struggled for subsistence, then material ambitions would make existential sense. But as our basic material needs have been met, we are faced with a much different dilemma: What now? What next? How should I live my life and why in that way?

Meg Zanetich said...

When we spoke about this blog last class I left feeling confused. Not by the question, but by what my answer would be. I guess at this point in my life, I think about the future all the time. Sometimes it even prevents me from living in the now. But what I consider to be most valuable in life is humility. I dont ever want to lose who I am and what I stand for. I just think staying true to yourself is so important in life. I dont ever want to be that girl who changed for a man, or because of money or a high powered job. I think that in life people take advantage of certain things, and believe me I am one of them. But as I get older I look at the life of someone like my grandma who worked harder than anyone I know and it payed off. But never once was she ungrateful. She knew she was blessed and I hope to someday be like her. I am humbled to have lived the life I have and always hope to stay this way. I would hope to never forget where I came from or how I even got somewhere...

Kelsey said...

Sometimes I do have trouble. Not in naming my goal but in following it. Now and days, things change so fast that it makes it harder and harder for people in general to follow their goal in life. My goal right now is to inspire others to be original through stories, photography and art. I think being yourself is the best possible thing a person could do. In the world that has been changing ever so quickly however, more and more people are beginning to become clones of what society has told everyone what is right and wrong. Originality is the strongest thing anyone can possess.

Scott Broskie said...

In my life all I want to do is help my family. My brothers and I have had some unfortunate things happen in our family, all I want to do is provide for them. I want to get out of school and get a job so they don’t have to work as hard as I had to. Last year I went to school full time and had a fulltime job I was killing myself so that this year I would be able to not need to work and finish school. I am looking for good things for myself, I would like to get a good job make lots of money and be able to life comfortably. Not just for myself but for my brother and my grandmother and my aunt who is working so hard to take care of my brother, her daughter, her sick mother, her sick grandmother, and her soon to be second daughter.

Ryan Smith said...

Of all the things in life I may pursue I believe happiness is the most valuable. I agree with the previous posts and I do want to be surrounded by love, have independence, be myself, be passionate and work hard for my family but I believe happiness is the most important thing. I want to be happy with myself and the life i choose to lead. I don't want to dread waking up every morning,I want to be excited for each new day. It breaks my heart to see people who are angry and bitter towards life. A negative outlook or attitude doesn't help any situation. I believe that you get out what you put in, so if you are happy and positive good things will come to you. I don't know where exactly I'm going in the future, no one really does but I know that as long as I am happy there isn't much more to ask for.

I Have a book filled with inspirational quotes called I Hope You Dance. It goes along with the Lee Ann Womack song and I like to read it when I feel sad or troubled. One of my favorite pages of the book simply says "There are far too many people too angry at a world that isn't the least bit angry at them." I couldn't agree more with that statement and I never want to become one of those people.

Marcy said...

My goal in life isn’t exactly to be spontaneous, but for my life to never become monotonous. I want to enjoy each day of my life and not let the days slip by too fast, no matter what happens. Too many people let this happen. I never want to forget the past, and always want to be open to the possibilities of the future.

Arantza said...

When we talked about the blog in class, the first thing that to my mind about my grand goal in living/how and what to pursue in life I thought about PASSION. I am not 100% what kind of answer is the "right" answer although technically there is no "right" answer. Anyway, my point is that my "motto" in life is to live passionately. If you are going to do something, then do it BIG. I feel that if you are going to do something then you should put that extra something into it. Whats the point of doing something if you are just going to half-ass it. So far in life (19 years,not too long), I have tried to live this way. I can definitely see it in my emotions, I am the type of person who feels things very STRONGLY. If I'm happy then I'm super happy and if I'm mad then watch out! But with actions and things that I get involved in, I put a lot of effort and passion into it, at least I try to.
I don't want to sound cliche or something but I feel that life's too short to not live life like this. It would be a waste not to.

lisa said...

This may or may not qualify as a “grand goal” in life: change. I want to experience a multitude of change throughout my life. It probably sounds strange, but I hate the idea of routines; daily routines, weekly routines, monthly routines, etc. My parents are the opposite of me, I thrive by living by routines. I want to live my life in a fashion that changes. I do not want to wake up five days a week and go to the same office or live in the same house for twenty years. Ultimately I would like to live in a way that allows me to change locations and have a job that requires a variety of tasks. I want to try new foods, new styles of clothing, and meet lots of new people throughout the course of my life. Hopefully I will travel quite often to help cater to my desire for change. This probably seems cliché, but I want to get the most out of the world for the short time that I will be here.

Rachel said...

I have a lot of goals in my life. I’m pretty sure not one of them is towards materialistic or monetary gain, falling short of having the basic necessities in life to live comfortably. It took me a while to post this because I was trying to think of some over all mystical and existential answer. I was trying to hard—I’m not sure who I was trying to impress. But I also realized that every day I set specific goals, to get me through that day. Sometimes they last longer then just the day, maybe the week. They range from a variety of topics: don’t smoke that cigarette, go to sleep earlier, get that paper done on time. Some are less tangible then that but, but still involve objects: Play my cello more, read a book I enjoy, finish reading the article in that magazine I just bought, stop spending money on stupid things, make an art project, knit that scarf. A lot of the time they are more intangible then that. A lot of the time the goal is not to watch my phone anxiously for a phone call that never happens. To think about myself before another person. Not to make excuses for myself and others. To be able to get through my day without wondering what someone else is doing, and to be more present in my own life. For a long time, I told myself my life goal was to be completely happy and content with myself. Recently I’ve changed that goal to learning not to just be happy with myself, but not to constantly be searching for affection, companionship, and attention of another person. I’ve always made the excuse that is was because I have a passion for other people, a lot of emotion and feelings, and that I want to share that with others. I told myself that my goal was to be truly happy with someone else. But that goal has been the main reason why I haven’t been able to truly achieve the potential in the so-called things I hold valuable. I want to start believing in my potential, and start working towards it, and stop making excuses of why I haven’t started yet.
My goal is to not have a goal. I want to wake up to the pure bliss of truly being able to enjoy the little things in life. I want to experience the sensations and moments of my daily life as they are, true to their nature, without having alternate motives for my actions, and without having preconceived emotions and thoughts that I want to get out of the situation. You can never be disappointed if you don’t expect anything.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that my goal in life is to find that one thing that is most valuable, truly valuable to only me, so that I can stop this feeling of searching. While everyday “should” be seen as a journey, and “It’s the journey that really counts”, I feel like I am constantly just telling myself that, and not really feeling that philosophy or deeply believing in it. I want to do something and believe in something because I truly feel it.
Perhaps the reason I say I don’t want to have a goal, is because the goals that I want to have, feel so hard to reach. I don’t know if you would call it nirvana that I am looking for. Nirvana sounds nice, but I’m a big fan of sensation and stimulation. I want to find that one thing that makes my soul unique and do it because it makes me truly happy. Not the happy that comes from comparing your worth and experiences to everyone else’s, but the one that comes from the knowledge of finally really knowing yourself and your mind. My goal is to find my goal.

Nicole Moss said...

A grand goal in living... that is a tough one. I say this because here I sit, a senior in college-graduating in May... with no idea as to what I want to be when "I grow up". That being said I do find my education to be something that is very valuable to me, but I cannot say that it is the most valuable thing to me. I know that in life I will continue to pursue many things, just as I have done in the past 21 years, but I will not continue life looking to fulfill something as being most valuable to me (if that makes any sense at all). The one thing I hope for in my life is happiness. I hope to find happiness in everything I do (which yes, can often be very difficult), but I find it to be one of the most fulfilling feelings in anything that I do. As long as I have a future filled with happiness and enjoyment I can say I have lived life. I find happiness to be the most valuable thing to me, I do not care how this feeling is fulfilled, whether it be in a future family or job- just that whatever it may be happiness follows. Sure, not everything is roses and sunshine, but when things get bad usually good things follow and I am prepared for this. This future of ups and downs, because we all know everything cannot be perfect. In a sense I guess my idea of happiness being my value in life is the same way in which Jennifer's value in life is love. Happiness with a significant other, happiness with my friends, happiness in what I choose to do, happiness that I find in love, in compassion, all of the things Jennifer uses I agree with. I believe that if one cannot be happy with themselves they will find it awfully difficult to lead a happy life. That is why i find happiness to be most valuable.

Arlene said...

This is a very tough question to answer because I have so many goals that I hope to accomplish, yet it is difficult to narrow it down to one main goal in life. I would say that my ultimate goal in life is happiness as well as maintaining a clean conscious. I want to be able to leave this world knowing that I treated people with respect and treated them the way I would have like to be treated. Knowing that I treated people correctly would complete my happiness. With happiness you can overcome anything because you have that fire in you to strive for what you want. The word happiness involves many things such as good health, stable family, love for what you do. Happiness keeps you motivated, excited and most importantly it keeps you awake wanting to know what life has to bring next. With happiness, you have nothing else to worry about because you are appreciating what life has given you. Although we all have our ups and downs, having that happiness in life will overwrite all those downs that one has had.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” -Albert Schweitzer

Joanna said...

I have no trouble naming my grand goal in living -- to be happy, healthy and always surrounded by people I love. That is an easy question.

What I DO find difficult to pinpoint are my short term goals- the goals that will hopefully become accomplishments that will ensure my grand goal. I am graduating in May with only a vague idea of what kind of work I want to do. I know that I am a hard worker and that no matter what job I take on I will perform well... but my goal is NOT to be a workaholic. I want to experience life-- especially in my twenties.

Admittedly I don't always put the same energy that I put into my jobs as I put into school. Undergrad has felt like a stepping stone towards the future and I often wish I took it more seriously and didn't spend so much time working in shitty restaurants over the last 4 years. Maybe college would have been a bit more humbling if I experienced it as that stereotypical "poor college kid."

I know that I want to go to grad school, but I don't know what kind of program I want to pursue- but I do know that I want to work harder this time around.

Throughout my high school years I think my main goal was to go to college. College was a world unknown for me, and when I graduated entering into the unknown was scary. Looking back, that seems silly in comparison to my upcoming entry to "the real world," which is currently a place where jobs are scarce... not such a great place for a recent college grad.

I suppose all I could do for now is ask myself- Am I happy? Am I healthy? And- Am I always in close contact with the people I love most? Fortunately right now the answer is yes. Hopefully everything else falls into place. Until then I will take it as it comes.

John Purcell said...

To respond to a comment you made Professor Good; I think it is hard for people to make a response that goes “beyond the mere material.” What does our society value as a whole? I would have to say it is material possessions and one’s personal pursuit to attaining these possessions. I wouldn’t be surprised that is hard for anyone to really stretch past the “material” when it comes to their grand goal in living. We all were told that we needed to go to college if we wanted to make enough money to provide for family and ourselves to live the ideal life. I imagine most students go to college not for knowledge, but for the material possibilities that are attached. At first, to be blunt, this is how I felt. I actually remember refusing to go to college at one point. After a while, at a good college, I think a student learns that college is not about securing your financial future, but expanding the possibilities of our knowledge. Thankfully, I have come to this point in my academic awareness. Yes, I do believe there is something wrong with our system of education and culture.

The first thing I remember promising myself, was that I would not work for a 9-to-5 job in a cubicle. I didn’t want an office job. I wanted something with more adventure and creativity. I wanted something that I could express myself in order to do my job. I guess that is how, in turn, I feel into journalism, eventually.

Ever since my mid-teens I have had this feeling that I wanted to change the world. I always feel childish admitting this, but I feel like I was put on this earth to change the world, or at least to affect some part of it in a positive manner. There are just too many reasons for me not to believe that I have a strong purpose here. I just don’t want to bore you with the details about why I feel this way. It started out that I thought I could achieve this through poetry, but now I feel I have more chance to do this through journalism. Who knows, maybe there will be a poetry revival in the future. At least I hope there is one — even if I never get my poetry published.

Lastly, I have decided recently that I want to be remembered. I don’t think it is being famous that I want, but I do want to be remembered in the future. I would like to have my writing looked back upon with significance to our culture and life. Similar to how we look back and study these great writers, such as (insert your favorite writer here), I want to be reflected upon too. I want to leave my mark on the journalism and literary world. Then I could die a content man.

Amy said...

When I read this question, immediately the answer came to mind. I think that's how this question is meant to be answered; it's not something to be highly analyzed - it's more of a question that involves utilizing your gut feeling.

What I am pursuing is being part of a greater good. I want to be involved in a movement to make the world a better place, and although my part might not enormously prominent when looking at the bigger picture, I just want to die knowing that I made my best effort to bring about change. The feminist movement is extremely important to me, and I want to remain active in it for the rest of my life. The career I have in mind is PR representative for an organization like NARAL Pro-Choice America - I want to be the person who connects feminists with other feminists to strengthen the movement. I see so many things that need to be changed, and I want to spend my life actively working to help bring on the necessary changes, in order to make the world just a little better.

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates


The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.


Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.