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Monday, February 3, 2020

Success in the time of Rump

Readers, since everything old is new again, always and forever, perhaps it’s time for a review of one key strategy for success. I am talking about Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I have my college students read this book. I have them do an exercise from it. The exercise is to visualize your funeral. I know that I immediately think of the made for TV movie, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” whenever the idea of attending my own funeral comes up. How often is that, you might ask? Well, at least once a year, when I tell my students to do Covey’s visualization. It’s in the chapter about Habit 2, “Starting With the End in Mind.” This habit focuses on living according to deep values, rather than shallow ones like power, money, and prestige. This exercise is about getting your priorities straight by imagining how you would want to be remembered. You’re supposed to visualize four speakers’ eulogies, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, and a person who knows you from the service work you do. The idea, obviously, is to look at all realms of your life, not just professional, where we tend to focus our evaluations of whether we are successful. The other idea, obviously, is to get you to distill your life to what’s really important. Ideally, you will discover that what matters is not how much money you made, or what rank you achieved, but how well-rounded you were, that you were of service to others, that you worked hard, and that you had a web of friends and family love supporting you. And that you should incorporate service into your life. Service for others. A worthy ideal.

Do you think our leaders in the  U.S. Senate should do this exercise? I do. I mean, there are several whose funerals I would happily visualize, but my eulogies for them would probably not jibe with what they’d like to be remembered as being. It’s probably too late for course-correction, but perhaps not. Hope springs eternal, as Alexander Pope wrote approximately three hundred years ago. The rest of that couplet is not often quoted, as it’s less optimistic than those words suggest. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blessed.” I believe Adam Schiff will be happy with his eulogies. Sadly, I imagine Mitch McConnell would also be satisfied with what he would imagine his eulogies to be. Ain’t it just the truth that people don’t think they’re the bad guy, even when everyone else knows they are?

Moving on. This is not a political blog.

Now the thing I forgot when I gave this assignment to my students this year, was that Stephen Covey tells readers to visualize their funerals three years from now. Try reading eighteen essays by eighteen-year-olds about their funerals three years from now. It’s jarring. They would be seniors in college. Nobody wants to think about seniors in college dying. It’s bad enough thinking about senior citizens dying. Once you get past that, though, what they write is really touching. They come across as nice people. Like, they want to do good, whether for strangers or by being supportive of friends and family. How can the future be bleak when so many young people want to be good?

A couple of weeks ago, I read an opinion piece in the New York Times. In case you didn’t know it, this year is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Apparently in schools, Holocaust education has been lumped together with anti-bullying education, and students are told that they should stand up to bullies. “Don’t be a bystander,” they are told. “Be an Upstander.” The high school senior confirmed that she has received this message. So did many of my college students. This article, though, titled, “The Road to Auschwitz Wasn’t Paved With Indifference,”** takes a contrarian stance. The gist: most people are not capable of acting heroically and that’s okay. The Holocaust wouldn’t have happened if more people were simply not doing bad stuff. You don’t have to be an “upstander” to badness to save the badness from taking over. You just have to not engage in the badness. In fact, says this author, promoting the idea that everyone has to be an upstander—standing up to the badness at risk to life and limb or livelihood or mere convenience—is counterproductive. It creates a sense of helplessness, since most of us know we’re not heroic. She writes, “It’s hard to be a hero, to risk your safety and personal commitments in order to help a stranger. That’s a big ask. And by asking people too much, we make being moral too hard — which, paradoxically, can make immorality too easy. “Clearly, being moral is too hard, I’m no hero! Forget it!” we can imagine people thinking.

The author continues, “The truth about how massive moral crimes occur is both unsettling and comforting. It’s unsettling to accept how many people participated in appalling moral crimes but comforting to realize that we don’t have to be heroes to avoid genocides. We just have to make sure not to help them along.” In other words, don’t join in. If everyone doesn’t join in with the bad seeds, then the bad seeds won’t take over. Now, if only the Senate Republicans were listening to their inner voices clamoring for them to do the long-term right thing, the thing that would make them proud at their funerals.

Oops, veering into the political again. It is honestly hard to avoid, although avoid politics I do try.

In my attempt to avoid politics, I came across this font of wisdom, “8 More Habits of People Who Always Have a Clean Home.” I figured—no, more correct to say I hoped— to learn something to help me have a neater home. My home, you see, is rather untidy. I defy you to tell me it’s dirty. But I cop to mess. Particularly to mess created by books and magazines and newspapers. On every single horizontal surface. Dirty, though? Not so much, thanks to the wonderful woman who cleans the house. Still, every so often I hope to become more magazine-spread friendly. Thus, I read the article. But what did I learn? I’ll tell you, to save you the trouble of clicking on this article that got published even though so many of mine have not. Guess what those habits are? Of people who have a clean home? Guess what they do to have a clean home? They put away their dishes. They wipe their counters. They have places to put things. They vacuum. They tidy. Plus three more ways people who have clean homes manage to have clean homes.

Oh my Gawd. They clean.
I'd be lying if I said this was atypical. 

Look, if you want real advice, do that funeral visualization. Think of what you want people to say about you at your funeral. Do you want them to say, “She always had clean counters and an amazing centerpiece?” I know I do. So, I shall have to act accordingly. That is my lesson to you. It is clear, I have my priorities in order, just like those Senators. Now all I have to do is clean up my act.


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