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.

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.

“‘Cultivating a Culture of Encouragement’ Interview, Stollman and Weber (12m in)”
by Christopher Long & Mark Fisher, hosts

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.

Logo of the Public Philosophy Journal.Before my Web site redesign in the summer of 2015, I attended a great workshop for the Public Philosophy Journal, a Mellon Foundation funded project. Jennifer Stollman of the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation coauthored a proposal with me to write a paper at the workshop titled “Cultivating a Culture of Encouragement” — the link takes you to an abstract for our paper.

The recording here features five groups, each talking about their projects. Jennifer and I are in the second spot, 12 minutes in. Learn more about each group on Dean Chris Long’s Web site here. Each group has their title listed, with a link to their abstract.

The whole audio recording of the 5 interviews comes in at around an hour long, but you can skip ahead. If you have any trouble with that, you can download the MP3 file here and use whatever player you prefer. Again, Jennifer and I are the second group of writers of five groups, a little more than 1/10th of the way in from the start.

Logo for Matrix, Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences.Thanks to Chris and his co-host Mark Fisher. Chris and Mark were both at Penn State University. Chris has since moved to East Lansing, Michigan, where he is now Dean of the College of Liberal Arts there. He and Mark are continuing work on the journal with a special digital humanities team there called Matrix.

Check out the full info about the episode and all of the guests featured in it and learn more about the Public Philosophy Journal.

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.

(more…)

Video of My Interview on WLOX TV News at 4

The video clip of my interview on WLOX TV News at 4 in Biloxi, MS, is included at the bottom of this post. I had a great time visiting the coast, seeing the beautiful water, and talking with some really nice people.

This is a still video frame from my interview on WLOX TV News at 4 in Biloxi, MS, about my book, Uniting Mississippi.

I also had a great time meeting Jeremy from Bay Books for the book signing afterwards at the West Biloxi Public Library. While I was at the TV studio, I was able to snap these photos.

(more…)

Logo of the John Dewey Society.Leaders of the John Dewey Society asked me to organize a panel workshop on public philosophy for the 2016 American Educational Research Association meeting. The conference them is: “Public Scholarship to Educate Diverse Democracies.” 2016 is also the 100th anniversary of the release of Democracy and Education. More info once details are finalized.

Date: April 8, 2016—April 10, 2016
Event: Leading - Public Philosophy Workshop: Building on Dewey's Example
Topic: "Public Scholarship to Educate Diverse Democracies."
Sponsor: The John Dewey Society
Venue: American Educational Research Association's Annual Conference
Location: Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.
USA

If you're in D.C. and would like to meet, or if you have a group that is looking for a speaker, visit my Contact page.

Public Philosophy Is Worth It

Logo for WLOV Tupelo.I’ve tried my hand at a few new kinds of public engagement efforts that have borne fruit. The latest example for me is in seeking TV interviews to talk about issues in public philosophy, particularly some ideas about how I think Mississippi could benefit from good democratic leadership. I’m headed to Tupelo, MS for an interview on WLOV’s This Morning show, Wednesday, November 18th. Then, on Monday, December 7th November 23rd, (updated), I’ll be heading to Biloxi, MS to give an interview on WLOX’s News at 4 show. After each I’ll be holding a book signing, though only the one in Tupelo has been scheduled at this point.

The Thinker, statue.Scholars or readers curious about higher education may wonder: why do all of this? We certainly have enough work to do teaching classes, researching and writing, applying for grants, and serving our institutions and professional associations (the work of a professor is a lot more than what folks see in the classroom). Why add on to that with “outreach” or public engagement?

In “The Search for the Great Community,” from The Public and Its Problems, John Dewey argues that democracy’s prime difficulty has to do with how a mobile, complex, and many layered community can come to define itself and its interests. He believed that the key to addressing democratic challenges was to make use of democratic means, particularly communication. Democracy can embody wise leadership, but only with widespread, maximally unhindered communication, especially emphasizing the developments of human knowledge — the sciences, broadly speaking. For that reason, it is a clear and crucial extension of his democratic theory to value the public engagement of scholars with their communities.

Scan of 'First Day of Issue' envelope honoring John Dewey in the 'Prominent Americans' series. The envelope bears Dewey's stamp, which was valued at 30 cents and issued on October 21, 1968.

When Dewey referred to public engagement, however, that did not mean only a one-way street. Communication takes listening too. So, the point isn’t only for scholars to speak to audiences, but for them also to learn from the people. When I write, I draw increasingly often from newspapers and magazines to illustrate my points about what people are saying and experiencing beyond the academy. Scholarly research is vital, but so is the world beyond the academy. Some circles have criticized me for it in peer-reviews, but so far I haven’t let that dissuade me from seeing scholars’ task as needing to draw also on sources and input from beyond the academy. In addition, talking with people around Mississippi and in other states about my work has revealed all kinds of interesting insights. Some people offer me great examples that I can use to strengthen my points. Others highlight challenges for bringing about the kinds of changes that I believe are needed.

(more…)