Monday, April 21, 2014

What I've Been Reading

The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life by Charles Murray. Murray has written this book for early twenty year olds who are on the verge of stepping into the wild wild world but his wisdom timeless and apt for every age.

Come to grips with the difference between being nice and being good

Nice and good are different. Being nice involves immediate actions and immediate consequences— you give water to the thirsty and comfort to the afflicted right here, right now. Being good involves living in the world so that you contribute to the welfare of your fellow human beings. Sometimes the immediate and long-term consequences are consistent with being nice; sometimes they are in conflict. That’s where the importance of the cardinal virtues comes in.

The four cardinal virtues were originated by the Greeks. They subsequently got their label from the Latin cardo, meaning “hinge,” because they are pivotal: All the other virtues, and the living of a virtuous life, depend on them. If you took an introductory philosophy course in college, they were probably translated from the Greek as courage, justice, temperance, and prudence.

Lacking the cardinal virtues, you can act in those other virtuous ways haphazardly, and occasionally have the effect you wish, but you cannot consistently have the effect you wish, nor will you be able to bring yourself to behave in those other virtuous ways when the going gets tough. You will still mean well. You will still be nice. You won’t be good.

Whether you find inspiration in the Western or the Eastern tradition is a minor issue. What is unacceptable is to go through life thinking that being nice is enough. You must come to grips with the requirements for being good.

On Proper Usage of English Language:
Issues. You can have issues with your spouse about your political views, but not about your infidelities. In the latter case, you don’t have a position to defend. You can’t have issues with alcohol or bipolar disorder. They aren’t arguing back. Stop using issues as a euphemism for a problem.

On Writing:
Writing well won’t necessarily push you up the ladder, but writing badly can keep you from rising. It’s no use being a clear thinker if you cannot communicate those thoughts. More important: Unless you’re in the hard sciences, the process of writing is your most valuable single tool for developing better ideas. The process of writing is the dominant source of intellectual creativity.

On Summer Jobs:
What’s so great about waiting tables in Montana or helping children bait hooks in Minnesota? Partly, they’re the jobs that are available. Ordinary jobs are hard to get for just three months, because employers know you’re not going to stay. But jobs at summer resorts also have a specific advantage: They are service jobs. Many of you have been waited upon constantly until this point in your life and you will be waited upon constantly as a successful adult. It is essential that you know what it’s like to do the waiting upon. Once you have been a server in a restaurant, you will never again look at dining in a restaurant as you did before you were a server. If you have ever had to attend to customers in a busy store, you are less likely to be an obnoxious customer thereafter.  You’ve got to spend serious time coping with situations that stress you psychologically and with people from alien backgrounds who stretch your understanding of life. Better to exercise your elastic limit now, when the penalties for errors are low, instead of fifteen years from now, when lack of experience in coping with adversity could be catastrophic.

On Happiness:
In ordinary life, lasting and justified satisfactions arise from only a few sources. I argue that they come from just four: family, vocation (which includes passionately pursued avocations and causes), community, and faith. If that sounds too dogmatic, try to think of a source of lasting and justified satisfactions that doesn’t fit into one of those four domains. It’s hard. It is not necessary for you to tap all four of these domains to be happy. There are happy atheists and happy single people. But the more of the four you are engaged in, the better your odds are.

On Marriage:
Marry someone with similar tastes and preferences. Which tastes and preferences? The ones that will affect life almost every day. It’s okay if you like the ballet and your spouse doesn’t. Reasonable people can accommodate each other on such differences. But if you dislike each other’s friends, or don’t get each other’s sense of humor, or— especially— if you have different ethical impulses, break it off and find someone else. Personal habits that you find objectionable in each other might be deal-breakers. Jacques Barzun identified the top three as punctuality, orderliness, and thriftiness. It doesn’t make any difference which point of the spectrum you’re on, he observed observed—“ Some couples are very happy living always in debt, always being late, and finding leftover pizza under a sofa cushion.” You just have to be at the same point on the spectrum. Intractable differences on any one of the three will, over time, become a fingernail dragged across the blackboard of a marriage.

No comments: