Cultures tend to determine what living a good life consists of. In France it’s having impeccable taste in food and drink and being suave, in England it’s about respecting one’s class boundaries and being articulate in the mother tongue, in Germany it’s being ordentich [orderly and law-abiding] and a good burgher, and in the U.S., it’s becoming rich and, if possible, famous. Yet the concept of the good life goes back to the ancient Greeks and Chinese, where none of the above characteristics applied. In the case of the former, Aristotle proposed moderation in all things while Plato’s Socrates argued for knowledge of and a life in harmony with one’s true self. And in the latter, Lao Tsu called for living in accordance with the Way (Tao), with Confucius insisting on a life in conformity with one’s station in society.
If the American Dream has come to emphasize worldly success, there has been long-term pushback from the likes of Emerson, Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, E.A. Robinson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, more recently, David Brooks and Arthur C. Brooks (the “Brooks Brothers”!) among many others. These social philosophers have cautioned against the emergence of an American Nightmare. Yet at the same time, critics of American higher education have protested how vocationally oriented it has become at the expense of the traditional liberal arts. So, in this context I propose the introduction of a required freshman seminar called Authentic Living 101: Issues of Power and Wisdom and a senior capstone seminar, Authentic Living 401: Preparing to Live the Good Life.
Specifically, in the first term of the freshman course, students would consider the impact of power on relationships in accordance with Dr. Cedar Barstow’s Right Use of Power Institute’s practical-ethics curriculum. For Barstow, ethics is the right use of personal, professional, collective, and status power. In the second term they would follow my program entitled Wisdom for Living—A Cross-Cultural Exploration. There are books to accompany each term’s work. For the senior seminar, students would review their life-learning to date, scholastic and otherwise; read several pertinent books; and write a capstone thesis—in effect their take-home final exam—with their plans for living a good, authentic life. Along the way, concepts like self-care, service, effective leadership, and personal development would be explored. In both courses, appropriate TED talks would be seen, and students would share all written work with each other as well as their instructor. I believe these two courses should enrich the participants’ college experience, choice of careers, and, most importantly, ability to live helpful, meaningful, satisfying lives.