How To Be (Some interrelated recent finds)


“These janitors have the moral will to do right by other people. And beyond this, they have the moral skill to figure out what ‘doing right’ means.”

“A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule… A wise person knows how to improvise… A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims.”

“A wise person is made, not born – wisdom depends on experience. And not just any experience. You need time to get to know the people you are serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise, to try new things, and occasionally to fail, and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.”

“‘Rules and procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking.'”

“When things go wrong, as of course they do, we reach for two tools to try to fix them: one tool we reach for is rules – better ones, more of them; the second tool we reach for is incentives – better ones, more of them. What else, after all, is there? … The truth is that neither rules nor incentives are enough to do the job. How could you even write a rule that got the janitors to do what they did? And would you pay them a bonus for being empathic? … Moral skill is chipped away by an over-reliance on rules that deprives us of opportunities to improvise and learn from our improvisations. And moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing.”

“Excessive reliance on incentives demoralizes professional activity… ‘We must ask ourselves, not just is it profitable, but is it right?’ … When professions are demoralized, they become dependent on, addicted to incentives, and they stop asking, is it right.”

“A few sources of hope. We ought to try to remoralize work. One way not to do it: teach more ethics courses… What to do instead. One, celebrate moral exemplars… Acknowledge them, be proud that you have them, celebrate them, and demand that the people who teach you acknowledge and celebrate them too.”

“Moral heroes.” “… and you don’t have to be a mega-hero. There are ordinary heroes.” *

“As heads of organizations, we should strive to create environments that encourage and nurture both moral skill and moral will. Even the wisest and most well-meaning people will give up if they have to swim against the current in the organizations in which they work.”

“… any work you do that involves interaction with other people is moral work. And any moral work depends upon practical wisdom.”

“And perhaps most important, as teachers, we should strive to be the ordinary heroes, the moral exemplars to the people we mentor. And there are a few things we have to remember as teachers: one is that we are always teaching. Someone is always watching. The camera is always on.”

“The official dogma of all western industrialized societies: If we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom… The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. … This is so deeply embedded in the water supply that it wouldn’t occur to anyone to question it.”

Series of illustrative examples.

“All this choice has two negative effects on people. One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis rather than liberation.”

“The second effect is that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.

There are several reasons for this. One of them … it’s easy to imagine that you could have made a different choice that would’ve been better. … The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.

Second, what the economists call the opportunity costs. … When there are lots of alternatives to consider, it is easy to imagine the attractive features of all the alternatives that you reject. …

Third: escalation of expectations. … [In the end] I walked out of the store with the best-fitting jeans I had ever had. I did better. All this choice had made it possible for me to do better. But I felt worse. … With all of these options available, my expectations about how good a pair of jeans should be went up. I had very low, I had no particular expectations when they only came in one flavor. When they came in a hundred flavors, dammit one of them should’ve been perfect. And what I got was good, but it wasn’t perfect. … Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that’s going to produce is less satisfaction with results even when they’re good results.

One consequence of buying a bad-fitting pair of jeans when there is only one kind to buy is that when you are dissatisfied and you ask ‘why’, ‘who’s responsible?’, the answer is clear: the world is responsible – what could you do? When there are hundreds of different styles of jeans available and you buy one that is disappointing, and you ask ‘why’, ‘who’s responsible?’, it is equally clear that the answer to the question is, ‘you’.”


“Heroism as the antidote to evil.”

“By promoting the heroic imagination, especially in our kids, and our educational system, we want kids to think, I’m a hero in waiting. … It’s ordinary people who do heroic deeds. … most heroes are everyday people and the heroic act is unusual.”

“The point is, it’s the same situation that can inflame the hostile imagination in some of us and makes us perpetrators of evil, can inspire the heroic imagination in others – it’s the same situation.”

“… how do we encourage heroism in children. … to be a hero you have to learn to be a deviant… Heroes are ordinary people whose social action is extra-ordinary /who act when other people are passi ve. And b), who act sociocentrically not egocentrically.”

“are we ready to take the path of celebrating ordinary heroes… because it may happen only once in your life. When you pass it by, you’ll always know, I could’ve been a hero and I let it pass me by. “


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