The Eulogy Virtues Valued in Life

This is a photo of the cover of David Brooks's latest book, The Road to Character, 2015. David Brooks has been challenging young people lately to think about more than what he calls the “résumé virtues.” His latest book is called The Road to Character, and he has been touring the country to talk about what’s more important than the many small steps we take in advancing our careers. Which matters more: what people think or say about your résumé, or what people will say at your funeral?

Brooks argues that so many of us today focus on the wrong things — on getting the next notch in our belts — when what we should be developing are the eulogy virtues. In the end, people usually don’t care about this or that promotion you earned. The bigger house you bought rarely comes up at a funeral. What matters most to people are the qualities of your character, not the quantities in your bank account.

Brooks’s message especially to young professionals and those aspiring to be them resonates with me. First of all, Aristotle noted that happiness is something that can only really be measured in terms of a person’s whole life. When we say we are happy, in everyday language, we are primarily talking about how we feel right now. What makes for a happy life, however, is not a certain number of happy-feeling-moments. We can endure great challenges for the right reasons and be happy about what we have contributed. The feeling is less the issue, however. What matters, as Brooks notes, is our character.

With a focus on professionalism today, one can certainly make a great deal more money going into any number of careers than one earns as a teacher. So some other force pushes people into that line of work. As I said in my last post, I’ve been very fortunate to feel appreciated at the University of Mississippi. Recently, a number of students added to that very kindly.

The funny thing about moving, as Annie and I soon will, is that you get a glimpse of people’s appreciation of the eulogy virtues, but without the dying part.

The logo of the University of Mississippi's Student Alumni Council.The Student Alumni Council at the University of Mississippi is a clever organization, in which current students are involved in the work of the alumni association — hook’em early, they say. It’s a great idea, actually, for networking purposes as well as for opportunities for student leadership. Yes, those are related to résumé virtues. The group is more meaningful than that, however. They organize an event each spring (though I don’t know how long this has been going on) where they recognize mentors, hosting a “Random Acts of Kindness” event. When I received my invitation, I joked to myself that I generally intend my acts of kindness to be thoughtful and purposeful, rather than random.

The event was lovely. One student at a time got up to say a few words about a mentor he or she wanted to recognize on campus with a Random Act of Kindness award. Next, two students got up to say that they had both nominated a certain professor. It was heartwarming. We do this work because we believe in it. It’s icing on the cake when people actually show you appreciation for it. When the time came, I was taken aback by three students who each got up to say some deeply thoughtful and kind things about our work together. I got a taste of the value of the eulogy virtues, without having to die, when Mary Kate Berger, Natalie King, and Rod Bridges each spoke eloquently and kindly in their explanations for their nominations for me.

I feel profoundly fortunate to have worked with great people in Mississippi. I also am more confident that Brooks and Aristotle are right. Character is the most important thing we can cultivate. The funny thing that so many people miss, however, is that attending to one’s own happiness really comes down to attending to the same for others. I can’t think of a more rewarding opportunity than to help others to shape their character.

Thank you again, Rod, Mary Kate, and Natalie (left to right in the photo)!

This is a photo of Rod Bridges, Mary Kate Berger, Eric Thomas Weber, and Natalie King at the UM 2016 Student Alumni Council 'Random Acts of Kindness' event.

 

A Big Moment for the Weber Family

This April, my wife, Dr. Annie Davis Weber, and I made a difficult, big decision. We will be moving in the summer to start work at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington. I will continue to write and teach there as an associate professor, and Annie will transition into the role of Assistant Provost for Strategic Planning.

The University of Kentucky, photo of campus.

I have been very fortunate to work at a great university, which has made me feel appreciated and valued. People often say that academia can be petty, with terrible in-fighting and little collegiality. I’m happy to say that my experience in Oxford was the reverse. I have worked since 2007 in the interdisciplinary department of Public Policy Leadership that has had a remarkable unity of focus and intent. Our department has been as collegial and mutually supportive as one could hope to experience. The program attracted scores of driven students who inspire hope in me even when elder Mississippians in public office disappoint. I look forward to these young people’s emergence as the next generation of leaders. It has been deeply meaningful to have played a small role in their growth and success.

The Lyceum building in Oxford, MS.

In Oxford, Annie got her start in the Development Office, while she finished her doctoral studies in Vanderbilt University’s executive program in Higher Education. She earned her degree while working part time at the University of Mississippi and travelling several weekends each month to Nashville for a number of years. Along the way, she and I learned the ropes of how best to care for our daughter Helen and her special medical conditions. Annie got her doctorate in much more difficult circumstances than I did. She also has risen a number of exciting steps through the ranks at the university, and recently was awarded one of two national Fellowships from the Society for College and University Planners. She is remarkable.

A hot toddy, Hotty Toddy, yall.We have made many wonderful friends in Oxford and have had the immensely rewarding opportunity to work with countless strong, courageous, and talented students. Our decision was not an easy one to make. I know that I will always feel a fondness for the time and opportunities we have had in Oxford.

“Correcting Political Correctness”

Published in "The Philosophers' Magazine," issue 72, 1st Quarter 2016, 113-114.

I had the pleasure of receiving a request to write for The Philosophers’ Magazine, which was planning an issue on “50 New Ideas.” My proposal was to revisit and rethink an old idea that people have been criticizing quite a lot lately: political correctness. Click here or on the photo of the piece here to open a PDF of my article:

Thumbnail photo of my piece in The Philosophers' Magazine, with a link to the PDF file.

Cover of The Philosophers' Magazine, issue 72, 1st Quarter 2016.This piece is a short, op-ed snippet of the larger project I’m working on, called A Culture of Justice. It’s an example that shows clearly how and why culture matters for policy, such as in trademark registration, free speech, and the cultural responsibilities of leadership and symbolism. Check it out.

If you enjoyed the piece, connect with me by “liking” my Facebook author page and “following” me on Twitter.

Tehran Times Front Page on ‘Uniting MS’

Check out the front page of February 28th’s Tehran Times. I gave an interview on Uniting Mississippi and was honored with some pretty cool real estate in the paper. Here’s an image of the cover and below that I’ve got links for a clipped PDF of the interview and to the regular text version on their site:

Cover pic of the front page of the Tehran Times, featuring an interview on 'Uniting Mississippi.'

Click on the image above to read a PDF of the piece, or click here. You can also read it online here.

You can learn more about the book here and find it for sale online here.

Follow me on Twitter @EricTWeber and “like” my Facebook author page @EricThomasWeberAuthor.

“‘Uniting Mississippi,’ Ep4 of Philosophy Bakes Bread”
by Eric Thomas Weber

Sorry, listening to the audio on this website requires Flash support in your browser. You can try playing the MP3 file directly by clicking here.

Philosophy Bakes Bread
February 6, 2016

BrownBagLunchPic2Here’s episode 4 of Philosophy Bakes Bread, titled “Uniting Mississippi.” You can listen to it here above or you can visit the podcast’s page for this episode here. You can subscribe to the podcast’s RSS feed here. If you prefer, you can download the MP3 file here and listen to it later.

iTunes has it too.

“Uniting Mississippi”

This episode considers what philosophy has to say about leadership. It features a recorded presentation I gave at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture on my September 2015 book, ‘Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South.’ Though Mississippi is the focus of my application, the principles and challenges apply through the South and beyond.

Logo for Philosophy Bakes Bread, which is a loaf of bread.The transcript for the intro to this episode is available here. The bulk of the episode is a recording of a live talk I gave, for which I do not yet have a proper transcript. For those interested in the project, for now I can direct you to the interview about the book that I gave The Clarion Ledger on the book, as well as to the actual book, available here.

Check out the other episodes of Philosophy Bakes Bread here.

Finally, if you’d prefer to “watch” the podcast on YouTube, here it is:

“Justice as an Evolving Regulative Ideal”

Journal article published in Pragmatism Today, Volume 6, Issue 2 (2015): 105-116.

Photo of the top of my paper, which links to the PDF file on the journal's Web site.

Logo for Pragmatism Today.I’m happy to announced that my latest paper, as of December 2015, has been published in Pragmatism Today, the peer-reviewed journal of the Central-European Pragmatist Forum. This paper is a step in the larger project of my book in progress, A Culture of Justice.

 

Title: “Justice as an Evolving Regulative Ideal.”

Abstract:

In this paper, I argue that justice is best understood as an evolving regulative ideal. This framework avoids cynicism and apathy on the one hand as well as brash extremism on the other. I begin by highlighting the elusive quality of justice as an ideal always on the horizon, yet which is nevertheless meaningful. Next, I explain the ways in which it makes more sense to see justice as evolving, rather than as fixed. Finally, I demonstrate the value of Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of a regulative ideal for framing a pragmatist outlook on justice. Peirce helps us at the same time to appreciate ideals yet to let go of outmoded understandings of their metaphysical status. Ideals are thus tools for regulating behavior. Each of these qualifications demonstrates that justice is best conceived of as an evolving regulative ideal.

Designs on Kids and Culture: Cartoons

Screen capture of Charlie Brown shaking hands with Franklin, the first African American character in Peanuts, introduced in 1968.

While I have been writing A Culture of Justice, so many examples have come up to illustrate what I’m concerned about. The latest is from Charlie Brown. At the same time, it’s true that culture is a funny thing to think about when it comes to justice.

When I first read Plato’s Republic, I found it so strange that Plato addresses oddly specific decisions about which kind of music and arts should be allowed in just city. It is one thing to be concerned about music that promotes violence or that demeans women, but what does the mode of the music have to do with justice? By modes, I’m referring to the dorian, the phrygian, or the mixolydian modes. Plato believed that it mattered profoundly which modes of music were taught to young people. Here’s a YouTube lesson on the modes of music – probably longer than you need, but you can stop whenever or jump ahead:

Plato presented a highly authoritarian version of Socrates in the Republic, so much so that Karl Popper accused him of betraying his great teacher. Popper saw the real Socrates as an advocate for freedom and the open society. The early dialogues do seem to present a different Socrates from the late dialogues. Plato loved his great teacher, yet the Athenians killed unjustly. It is not surprising that he would be skeptical about the will of the people to lead wisely.

While I disagree with the extent of Plato’s heavy handedness, I think he was right to attend to culture’s relationship to justice. Today, we defend the freedom of expression to amazing lengths, protecting even hateful speech. The modes of music seem strange to think of limiting, sure, but it was once prohibited to show Elvis Presley’s shaking hips on television.

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Reciprocal Goodwill Is Answer to Flag Issue

My latest Clarion Ledger piece, published December 8, 2015, 8A.

Photo of the printed version of the article.

Thumbnail photo of the Clarion Ledger logo, which if you click will take you to the Clarion Ledger's site where you can read the full article.My latest piece in the Clarion Ledger draws on Aristotle’s insights about friendship, which he called acknowledged reciprocal goodwill. We sure need more of that in Mississippi.

Click here or on the Clarion Ledger logo on the right to read the piece on their Web site.

You can also see a scan of the printed piece on Academia.edu.

Uniting the States? Brainstorming a Trajectory

When I was in graduate school, looking at the job market, I remember feeling perplexed at certain questions about the future of my career. Some colleges and universities ask you about your “research trajectory.” Finishing a dissertation prepares you with a stack of paper, but now it’s supposed to be nimble and fly like an arrow. I can just picture throwing an unbound dissertation from the top of some stairs, watching the pages fall in all directions. That’s one kind of a trajectory.

A photo of me reading at my desk in 2010, before I came to need glasses.

It wasn’t too hard to imagine things that I wanted to study next, but it’s a huge step in one’s academic career just to finish a major, final project. To be asked at that moment what your next one will be takes one aback. I’ve come to like that question, but somehow I hadn’t been expecting it at the time. It was exciting to think about what I might pursue over the course of my career, though. I had ideas about wanting to work on this or that topic, and some of them did come together.

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