The Good Life

The education system today heavily promotes the development of critical thinking. This includes not only self-examination but also the ability to question the sources, timelines, perspectives, and motives of everything encountered. Skepticism is healthy in the pursuit of truth. Also, an awareness of conditions such as confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance helps guard against the misinformation distributed through today’s technologies.

Technology has dramatically limited our capacity for reflective examination. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram encourage spontaneous emotional reactions and the few seconds typically allotted between receipt and response leave little time for sober second-thought or moral consideration. It is a challenge maintaining composure, and the current social and political arenas of hatred, narcissism, selfishness and bullying tend to inspire knee-jerk retributions.

Ancient Greek ideology sought to prioritize societal needs over personal needs and today’s priorities seem remarkably shallow and self-serving; the current view of happiness and success seems to be measured in yacht ownership, new cars, and large TVs. Today’s society tends to conflate the good life with an excessive abundance of both financial and material assets.

The Ancient Greeks built upon the theoretical concepts of phronesis and eudaimonia, which represent yesterday’s version of critical thinking, and created a practical application of the theory, an activity referred to as praxis. It is about not only thinking through an issue to determine the morally correct thing, but then applying the theory to do the right thing.

Aristotle’s concept of praxis begins with a focus on social responsibility and being able to live what was considered to be a good life composed of a happy and ethical existence. Well before the implementation stage, the act of praxis involves repeatedly reassessing possible outcomes. The commitment to truth and social improvement underlies all decisions. Praxial thinking is the socially-responsible extension of critical thinking. Changing the application and even challenging the knowledge are natural components of the discovery process in both critical thinking and praxial thinking.

Praxial thinking is an explicit process built on critical thinking and could support a new (yet very old) paradigm for living.

You’ve Got To Be Taught

Opening on Broadway in 1949 the Tony Award-winning musical South Pacific addressed the cultural differences of World War II, specifically those related to romance and race. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s You’ve Got To Be Taught is a song about the intolerance bred into us at an early age by our parents, relatives, friends and early societal interaction.

I am fortunate to have played in the pit orchestra for a high school production of South Pacific under the excellent baton of Barb Kitts; it was a wonderful grade 10 experience. True confession, it was not until many years later did I understand the meaning of the words and the dark message associated with them.

You’ve Got To Be Taught references the malleable nature of the childhood mind. The seeds of prejudice are sown at a very young age and the belief systems inculcated are typically beyond reproach. The teachers of intolerance (parents, etc.) are unaware of the potentially damaging lessons being taught and, even if questioned, would be clear-conscienced regarding their views. Such is the nature of systemic racism; it happens without forethought, ill intent, or even an awareness that it exists. Views and opinions are entrenched, often presented at a level of confidence that would make Dunning-Kruger proud (that is, if a research paper could be proud).

Today the lyrics seem profoundly prescient and applicable to not only systemic racism, but also a variety of attitudes in systemic-isms relevant to religion, employment, sexual orientation, gender, appearance, and both familial and societal relationships.

It is a beautiful song. Find below the lyrics and links to recordings by James Taylor and John Pizzarelli.

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be carefully taught

James Taylor
John Pizzarelli