Wednesday, April 22, 2009


When it comes to learning, some things are better taught, while others are better caught.

Explicit instruction works best for most of the subjects in schools conveyed by means of lesson plans, exercises and tests, such as math, history, or biology.

But for other things, it’s the presence and example of a teacher who is expert and exemplary in such subjects (such as theatrical acting or public speaking or flute playing or versecrafting)—all such doings or performances that produce a learning which students catch by imitation, rather than absorb by instruction. “Do as I do” is the motto of such performative, rather than informative, guides and mentors.

In our “Writing about Human Frontiers” course this semester, I hope that I’ve served you in both capacities, as both instructor and exemplar. I hope that our course of readings, writings and discussions has led you into a new world of knowledge, issues and concerns, as well as given you useful critiques of your written compositions.

But equally I hope that I’ve demonstrated a kind of curious, far-reaching and inventive inquiry that has set examples for you of how to go about discovering new issues to explore, and new information to consider and assess. I hope you have observed me being enterprising and creative in ways that prompt you to do likewise, having caught something of the same spirit of inquiry and solution seeking that motivates me.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The faith I have that counters dark despair
Is not in a protector God who keeps
Me from all ill and guards me with His care;
What I believe is What one sows one reaps.

Which is to say, I put my faith in me:
That in my inmost being I can find
The way I need to go that keeps me free
From karmic consequence and clears my mind.

“But are these not the same?” I hear you ask:
“Is not your inner consciousness the mind
Of God directing you behind a mask,
A deeper truth to which just now you’re blind?”

To which I say, “Then that’s a mystery
The truth of which I hope some day I’ll see.”


Sunday, April 19, 2009


Since the compassionate teaching of the Golden Rule seems to be a universal ethical principle of human community, it is worth asking why it is not universally practiced: “Do not do to others what you would not like done to you”; or, positively, Do to others what you would like done to you”—same coin, two sides.

From the positive side, let me ask: What do I want others to do to me? I readily reply:

• respect me
• be kind to me
• care for me
• encourage me
• help me
• trust me
• expect the best of me
• enjoy me

And when I feel such an amiable attitude expressed toward me, I’m disposed to feel the same way in return; when, however, I receive chilliness and disregard from others, rather than warmth and kindly radiance, then my own generosity and openness constrict and cool.

Knowing this from my own experience, I therefore know my duty, by the Golden Rule: I must be gentle, generous, genuine and kind. To behave that way, freely and spontaneously, feels natural and good.

Why then do I not always behave so? Because I prefer serving myself, my own desires, wants, and needs than serving others, even if they behave kindly toward me, but more easily if they don’t. In such cases, Me First wins, which happens all too often.


Thursday, April 16, 2009


Who are the students who impress me best,
Those stars whom I’ll remember when they’re gone?
They’re ones with a distinctive sort of zest
For bookish lore toward which they’re deeply drawn.

They’re keen to read and love the sounds of words
And how words wreathe the sense of sentences,
Yet they’re not simply super-studious nerds:
Asked why they study, they’ll just say, “Because.”

Which means, I think, because they’re curious,
Because they yearn to ponder what’s unknown,
Because their wonder is compendious,
And they enjoy being quiet and alone.

For only then they’re clear to contemplate
The depths of literature and know what’s great.


Monday, April 13, 2009


Don’t tell me there is no propensity
Inherent in mere stuff and energy
To rise to most miraculous design
Toward which a conscious Cosmos must incline.

Perhaps there’s no Intelligent Designer,
No Godly Architect nor Wise Opiner
Whom we personify to thank and praise,
Yet Something has made us from cosmic rays.

For nothing was till that Initial Blast
Which proved the only present with no past:
The start of time and all futurity,
From which this universe has come to be.

Now here we are to think and to reflect,
Disposed to show this Cosmos due respect.


Sunday, April 12, 2009


The Golden Rule, to do to every other
As you would have them to do you in turn,
Implies that you're the sister or the brother
Of everyone you meet, whose first concern
Is to show light and love familiarly,
Since families are by definition kin
Or kindred, and thus kind as they can be,
For to act otherwise is careless sin.

But till you see in others your own soul
And know them as your brothers, one by one,
Your life will fill with misery and dole,
And darkness shall obliterate the sun.
Like Jesus, though, you may be resurrected
If you but choose to live by love directed.



If ours were to become a truly Dignitarian Society, what practices, what customs, what attitudes standard today must then fade away?

A Dignitarian Society would be not only one in which the rights of individuals are articulated, codified and guaranteed, as in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, but also one in which the essential worthiness of every person (that quality which validates our very claim to possessing human rights) is honored universally. The kind of honor that was once so lavishly bestowed upon royalty and aristocrats would, in a Dignitarian culture, be commonplace. Each person, even every child, would be treated with utmost respect and courtesy and, though not literally addressed as “Your Honor” or “Her Highness,” such dignified respect would be implicit in all dealings among people.

Courteous customs of such reverence and regard have long been common in the manners of some Asian cultures, at least in their outward forms of polite respect for one another. Often, however, displays of gentle manners have been used to cloak nefarious attitudes. Not so, though, among true Dignitarians, whose unvarnished sincerity is manifest.

What underlies this new attitude is not the noblesse oblige of Superior People treating their inferiors with kindly condescension, but rather a radical egalitarianism that distinguishes no implicit rank among human beings, but only the single dignified status of Human Being, to which we are all equally entitled by birth.

That our society does recognize functional ranks and hierarchies of authority within organizations as an effective means of operation in no way detracts from the singular dignity of individuals, which requires unfailing respect in all interpersonal relationships. Individuals may rise to one or another rank of operational functionality according to their aptitudes, training and experience, but this does not imply that anyone is essentially greater or lesser than another and therefore deserving of more or less status, deference or privilege.

The most radical change in the Dignitarian Society from societies prevalent today is that of its reward system. Previously, rank and reward went hand in hand to provide the incentive for ambitious striving in individuals who aimed to “better themselves” and rise above their neighbors, or even leave behind their old neighborhoods and move to more affluent and elite communities. “Keeping up with the Joneses” and preferably surpassing them in status was a fundamental motivator in society, an engine of ingenuity, effort, and productivity rewarded fundamentally by one’s enhanced sense of eminence—of being or becoming a Somebody. Yet if everyone in a Dignitarian Society is presumed to be “eminently worthy,” then who will be deemed “outstanding” except, negatively, those egregious individuals who fail to accept the equal worthiness of each person?

“But,” it will be objected, “it’s only human nature (our animal nature essentially) to strive to be top dog and to elevate one’s place in the pack or the pecking order of any society. That’s how order is maintained most effectively, and the greatest degree of cooperation with the least possible violence is thereby achieved. Though it may be somewhat bloody, still the hardiest will prevail, and the weakest will be culled from the ranks—pure Darwin”: so argue the opponents of Dignitarianism, who find this upstart philosophy “unnatural” from the perspective of Darwinian Natural Selection and by the ancient principle of the “Survival of the Fittest.”

“But has not the time now come to distinguish the essential differences of our Human species from those we have descended—or ascended— from?” reply the proponents of Dignitarianism. “All human beings are absolutely precious, with no degrees of differentiation except, perhaps, as they voluntarily elevate another above themselves.”

What follows from all this? Simply that with respect to all essential enhancements of human wellbeing, insofar as these can be made available within society, they should be delivered to all who can benefit from them without regard to presumed rank and privilege, qualities no longer deemed meaningful. Since all people are worthy of the essential enhancements of safety and protection, of healthcare and therapies, and of intellectual education and training for useful employments—then everyone should share equally in these services and opportunities to the degree they are needed and can be provided. Their adequate provision is therefore taken as the principal goal of society, toward which as many people will contribute as can do so, because it is their first duty. All people are assumed to be providers of Goods and Services for as much of their lives as they are able to do so, and they are deeply inculcated to understand the logic of their prime responsibility of helping others to enhance the quality of their lives. The logic is simple, ancient and venerable: As you wish others to regard and treat you, then regard and treat them in like manner—according to the Golden Rule.

What distinguishes the economy of the Dignitarian Society from the Capitalist economy is that all its Goods are good and all its Services are serviceable. Nothing is deemed worthy of producing or providing that demeans human dignity or undermines the health and wellbeing of people, to the extent that such judgments can be determined by the widest and wisest processes of decision-making—not by puritanical overseers, but by the informed and deliberated consensus of the populace.

Will there then be no silliness, no frivolity, no indiscretion, no foolishness; not to mention no egotism, emulousness, antagonism, rebelliousness, and insubordination? “Some there will surely be, but much less than is common today”—is the likely answer because of the fundamental fairness of the Dignitarian philosophy, one not based on the rank-ist presumptions of “Somebodies vs. Nobodies.” When everyone is born Somebody, inherently possessed of precious worth and universally esteemed, then disgruntlement has no foundation, lack is lacking, and envy can’t get traction.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sunhee Kim, The Seeds of Time


What is it, say, that yet may come to be,
That’s waiting to unfold and lie revealed,
The bud, the map of our futurity,
The document that waits to be unsealed?

Could we but peek into the seeds of time
And glimpse in microcosm all they’ll yield,
A crop that may be dismal or sublime,
We might find out if humans can be healed.

Our history so far casts that in doubt:
For all we may construe that we’ve advanced,
We’re more like a disease or killing drought
To fellow species spoiled and unenhanced.

The health we hope for, which could make us whole,
Is kindly fellowship that saves the soul.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009


An essay is a technology, a device, a tool we have invented and developed in order to consider subjects thoughtfully. Without such a mechanism—which may be as simple as a sheet of paper and a pen in the hands of someone trained to write a language he knows well (all of which actions are techniques or technologies)—without such marvelous mechanisms, then consideration would prove more difficult to perform and more taxing to remember.

For one’s ideas to grow clear and distinct and then complex and qualified, subtle and sonorous, takes writing and rewriting to accomplish. To “consider” matters is to “sit with” them, as one does when writing probingly and reflectively. One “essays”—or attempts—so as to find out and then display to others, what one thinks about the matter being pondered. “Of Studies,” “Of Marriage and Single Life,” “Of Envy,” “Of Cunning,” “Of Seeming Wise”—such are some of the many subjects that Francis Bacon, Shakespeare’s contemporary and the Father of the English Essay, essayed to consider.

If you would cudgel your brains about some topic perplexing or fascinating to you, then you can do better than pace your room or toss in bed; rather, sit down, take pen in hand, draw up a tablet to write on, chew reflectively on your pen cap while waiting for ideas to materialize that then you can transcribe, line after line, as thought forms into phrases, then into sentences transfixed on your page, building toward paragraphs preserved for further rumination and revision.

So works this essay, this device, this modus scribendi, that turns attempts into deeds, makes hints and notions into well-wrought thoughts, and, deftly done, brings enduring delight to reader after reader.


"And now here is my secret" said the fox, "a very simple secret:

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye."

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupéry


Saturday, April 4, 2009


Once, long ago, there shone on me
A glorious warmth and light—
It bathed me in tranquility
And opened wide my sight:

I then could view the Universe
And seemed to know it whole,
And though that vision would disperse,
It clarified my soul.

What I now see by lesser light
Still glows with what I saw,
And while I cannot reach that height,
My heart retains its awe.

Though brilliant’s now reduced to bright,
I’m glad enough to glimpse such light.

* * *

If I cannot believe in a Supreme Being—God, I do know a supreme way of being—godly; a holy state of human being: whole and healthy; a blessed human condition: blissful and beatific.

We human beings have it in us to waken, rise, and open to spiritual awareness of the highest, brightest kind, and it’s that state we seek instinctively to find and realize—a transcendent consciousness beyond the mundane-mindedness of daily deeds.

To be so beatified is to become fully human and to kindly shine on others, reminding them of how they too may be, and who they truly are.