A new article over at The Atlantic reveals that the third most popular course at Harvard is now Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory, usurped only by Intro to Economics and Intro to Computer Science. Michael Puett, the Chinese history professor who teaches it, promises “this course will change your life.”
Puett tells his students that being calculating and rationally deciding on plans is precisely the wrong way to make any sort of important life decision. The Chinese philosophers they are reading would say that this strategy makes it harder to remain open to other possibilities that don’t fit into that plan. Students who do this “are not paying enough attention to the daily things that actually invigorate and inspire them, out of which could come a really fulfilling, exciting life,” he explains.
We’ve been talking a lot lately about how “being lucky” really means remaining alert and open to opportunities that arrive, and that taking risks means being okay with screwing up sometimes. Chinese Philosophy teaches an entirely different perspective than what most Americans grew up with. It’s about self-reliance, of not viewing life as linear, of being alert and open to ourselves as well as our surroundings.
Some of the approaches include:
The smallest actions have the most profound ramifications. When we notice and understand what makes us tick, react, feel joyful or angry, we develop a better sense of who we are that helps us when approaching new situations. Mencius, a late Confucian thinker (4th century B.C.E.), taught that if you cultivate your better nature in these small ways, you can become an extraordinary person with an incredible influence, altering your own life as well as that of those around you, until finally “you can turn the whole world in the palm of your hand.”
Decisions are made from the heart. Americans tend to believe that humans are rational creatures who make decisions logically, using our brains. But in Chinese, the word for “mind” and “heart” are the same. Puett teaches that the heart and the mind are inextricably linked, and that one does not exist without the other. Whenever we make decisions, from the prosaic to the profound (what to make for dinner; which courses to take next semester; what career path to follow; whom to marry), we will make better ones when we intuit how to integrate heart and mind and let our rational and emotional sides blend into one. . . [And] recent research into neuroscience is confirming that the Chinese philosophers are correct.
We’re all about the face-to-face conversation, but with the rise of remote teams, communicating via IM becomes an increasingly important skill. Github’s Zach Holman shares why he actually prefers that workplace communication happen via instant messaging:
Text is explicit. By forcing communication through a textual medium, you’re forcing people to better formulate their ideas.
Real-time oral communication has drawbacks. In normal, conversational dialog, most of us know the direction we want to take our argument, but it’s difficult to think about what you’re going to say until a few moments before you say it. This leads to filler words (like um and uh), excess rambling, and lack of clarity in speech.
If you’ve ever wanted to scream at someone get to the damn point already, you know this pain.
Text is the opposite.
Read the rest of his case here.
Being selfish doesn’t always result in an obvious display of self-interest. More often, selfishness can come across in subtle ways that sabotage our relationships with others. Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits offers some examples:
- When someone doesn’t clean up after themselves, you get irritated because you think you’re entitled to everyone acting the way you want them to act (being clean and considerate).
- When someone else needs help, you think first about how it will affect you, rather than how it will affect the other person.
- When something unexpected happens at work or in your personal life, you think first about how it will affect you.
- When people are talking, you think about how what they’re saying relates to you, how you’ve had a similar experience, what they’re thinking of you.
Read the rest of his post here.
Ever feel totally out of your depth? Like you’re due to be discovered for the “fraud” that you are? This is “impostor syndrome” — where we constantly feel like everyone around us has their act together and we don’t. The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman:
Achieve promotions, or win accolades, and you’ll just have more cause to feel like a fake. Enhance your knowledge, and as you expand the perimeter of what you know, you’ll be exposed to more and more of what you don’t. Impostorism, as Pacific Standard magazine put it recently, “is, for many people, a natural symptom of gaining expertise”. Move up the ranks and if your field’s even vaguely meritocratic, you’ll encounter more talented people to compare yourself negatively against. It never stops. “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find [me] out now,’” as some low-profile underachiever named Maya Angelou once said.
The solution, says Burkeman, is that our higher-ups should talk about their insecurities more. Admittedly, that’s a hard ask, so in the mean time just remember that everyone feels like an impostor, it’s not just you.
Read the rest of his essay here.
It’s an old businessperson’s axiom: you have to spend money to make money. But what happens when you have no money? Many aspects of the world cruelly require the very thing we need more of. The more people you know, the easier it will be to make friends. If you have chickens you can get eggs. If you have eggs you can yield more chickens. Facebook’s Julie Zhuo on how to break this vicious cycle:
One great line from Gagan Biyani’s talk last week has stayed with me: faking the chicken. It means doing whatever it takes to get the chicken in place so that you can start reaping the benefit of eggs.
Or, if you’re lacking confidence, fake it until you make it. Act as if you have conviction in what you’re saying even if the entire neighborhood’s butterfly population has taken up residence in your stomach.
Or, if something seems out of your capabilities, surround yourself with people that have done it before. Take inspiration from those who make it look possible, and maybe even easy. Trick yourself into thinking you already have the chicken.
At the end of the day, that’s life—the constant wrestling with and pushing of the self. The cycle of striving for better and better cycles, so that we can achieve something of meaning in an unfair world.
Read her entire essay here.