Friday, July 11, 2014

#193 / The Path Of Our Lives

Steve Blank is one of those "entrepreneur" guys. He was, for awhile, a member of the California Coastal Commission, and I like what he has to say about saving the California coast. In essence, Blank's message on that subject is that it is important to be "unreasonable" and uncompromising in our defense of the coast. Anything less means we will lose it. Blank also "gets it" about saving agricultural land. Not everybody does!

Blank's most recent blog posting is titled "The Path Of Our Lives," and I found it both attractive (in one way) and disturbing (in another). 

The idea that our lives are about passively experiencing what "happens to us" is profoundly wrong, at least in my view. I have long advocated a politics in which we "make things happen," as opposed to thinking that our role in life is to be "spectators," rather than "actors." 

I very much agree with Steve Blank as he urges us to do our best to create the kind of world we want. 

I also agree with Blank about the "unexamined life." From Socrates on, we have heard that "the unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates (and Steve Blank) are right in saying that thinking about things is good. We need to think about things. If thinking about things weren't important, why should Steve Blank and I spend our time writing out blog notes to ourselves about the ideas and issues with which we are so determined to wrestle?

If you read Steve Blank's latest, you will find that it is constructed around Blank's comparison of his life with the life led by a friend of Blank's youth. Blank recently reconnected with this friend after forty years, and he conveys the joy of finding something lost, and appreciating the value of what he had left behind and forgotten. 

But here's the part that was disturbing to me. Blank's reconnection with his friend was a great story, but the lesson Blank draws from the story seems to be that Blank's life has been properly directed, and his friend's life hasn't been. This conclusion (if it is Blank's conclusion, and that is the way the posting comes across to me) is premised on the friend's use of the word "predestination" to describe the events that have filled the friend's life. 

Blank takes exception to the idea that anything we do is "predestined," and implicitly finds that his friend's use of this word, to describe his experiences, means that the friend is at the "bottom" of the pyramid shown above, which graces Blank's blog entry. Blank decides that his friend's life is "unexamined," and while he doesn't quote Socrates, we do remember the quote. If his friend's life is truly "unexamined," then that life has not been "worth living."

This is an uncharitable judgment. 

Two points for Steve Blank: First, we become "masters of our fate" not individually, but as we act together. Blank's short essay demonstrates the kind of self-promoting and self-congratulatory approach that is all too typical of those who style themselves "entrepreneurs." Second, if we think that we can judge the value of other people's lives, we go way wrong. Always!

If I look back on my life and describe it as "predestined," that doesn't mean that I didn't choose. It may mean that I choose to explain my life without claiming that all the credit is mine, for all the choices I made, and all the things I have accomplished. 

We truly penetrate the meaning of the lives of others when we celebrate them for what they are (whatever that is, and has been), not when we compare them to our own lives, and find the lives of others wanting. 

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