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The Art of Living: the How and Why of Living Our Lives

Who shall I be? How do I become? What highest value(s) ought I aspire toward? What is the end and aim of life? The Art of Living refers to the project and the problem of our lives as characterized by these fundamental questions.

In this capstone discussion we will explore the theory and practice of the Art of Living. Can great works of literature or philosophy inform your own personal Art of Living? Our discussion series and the Stanford course upon which it has been based assumed "Yes". Is that a sound assumption? Have any of the great texts explored in this series (Plato's "Symposium", Shakespeare's "Hamlet", Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling", Nietzsche's "The Gay Science", and Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon") influenced your Art of Living? Have other great texts influenced your Art of Living more? Which texts have inspired you? Can the Art of Living be better learned from books or videos or role models? Story or prescription? Argument or experience? Planning or accident? Discussion or meditation? Something else?

In the Stanford video series the three lecturers had distinct perspectives and often disagreed with one another. In addition to the discussion outlined above, we will critique their approaches to explore the very meaning of the Art of Living. I recommend watching (or re-watching) the introductory video in the Stanford series to better understand this part of the discussion.

http://vimeo.com/20383042

R. Lanier Anderson emphasized in his introductory lecture the importance of the liberal arts and "freedom for expansion and self-development". He cited W. E. B. DuBois who said the purpose of a liberal education is "not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes"? Does knowing "the end and aim of life" give us a freedom for growth and self-development? Are the liberal arts and the Humanities uniquely capable of informing our Art of Living? Does modern life seem less meaningful because we tend to over-emphasize science, business, and specialized skills in a profit-driven economy over the arts, the humanities, and the liberal arts?

Morality is defined by Wikipedia as "the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong)." In this series, we have followed Kenneth Taylor's profound idea from his introductory lecture that your life is given to you as a problem and as a project. As a problem the question is "What shall I be?"; as a project it is "How shall I become?" We have defined this paradigm as the Art of Living. Is Taylor's characterization valid? Are there aspects of the Art of Living that are not captured by his two penetrating questions? Is there a difference between morality and the Art of Living? Is the idea of an Art of Living more aspirational (ambitious, success-oriented) than morality which sometimes seems so judgmental? Would it be helpful to redefine morality as the Art of Living to emphasize this positive, aspirational aspect?

Joshua Landy in his introductory lecture emphasized finding values that you could live for and possibly even die for as a key element in an Art of Living. According to Wikipedia, descriptive morality "refers to personal or cultural values". Does that mean that the Art of Living is only the values side of morality (excluding the normative or prescriptive aspect)? Or is morality encompassed by the Art of Living? Is it important to deeply understand the values that you live for? Do you (or should you) have any values that you will die for? Landy also emphasized with each text the importance of finding the author's highest value. Is there or should there be a highest value? Instead should we all have highest values? How important are these distinctions?

For the third and final part of this discussion, we will explore various approaches to one's Art of Living by participants. What is your Art of Living? What spurs you to "freedom for expansion and self-development"? What is the end and aim of your life? How do you answer the questions for the problem and project of your life? What shall I be? How shall I become? What are your highest value(s)? How do you practice your Art of Living?

To inspire thinking about your art of living, here are five videos totalling 62 minutes to spur your thinking for the discussion:

"Be Yourself" (2m) by Neil deGrasse Tyson

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOkFfvTGuGk

• Neil Gaiman's Commencement Speech To the University of the Arts Class of 2012 (20m)

http://vimeo.com/42372767

• "The Meaning of Life" (13m) by Jill Lepore

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YspXDn7z_6s


• "Be An Artist, right now!" (17m) by Young-ha Kim

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRvDWVfib2c

• "The Power of Outrospection" (10m) by Roman Krznaric

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG46IwVfSu8


This is the last discussion in a series inspired by an accessible, exquisite, free on-line course The Art of Living (http://humanexperience.stanford.edu/artofliving), three Stanford professors discuss five great works to explore how philosophy and literature can help us practice the art of living. The lecturers are Kenneth Taylor, Joshua Landy, and R. Lanier Anderson and the works are Plato's "Symposium", Shakespeare's "Hamlet", Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling", Nietzsche's "The Gay Science", and Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon". The course video lectures will guide our exploration of "The Art of Living" in a multidimensional way. For an overview of the topic, please watch the 50 minute video Introduction to The Art of Living

These are links to the other meetups in The Art of Living series:

1. The Art of Living: Love and Reason in Plato's Symposium

2. The Art of Living: What Can We Learn From Shakespeare's Hamlet?

3. The Art of Living: The Paradoxes of Faith and Existence

4. The Art of Living: The Roles of Art and Science

5. The Art of Living: The Roles of Self and Community

6. The Art of Living: Engaging the Project of our Lives

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  • Joe N.

    Good points - the people who wield the most influence are most often the worst of the species, ethically speaking. Is it possible to create a structure that enables conscientious and empathetic people to wield the most influence, or does the very nature of power make that impossible?

    March 1, 2014

    • James F.

      Sorry about the breakdown of my message.

      March 10, 2014

    • James F.

      I need tutoring in how to use the site. I will do my best in future. Thanks, JMF

      March 10, 2014

  • Jennifer A.

    I gained a lot of perspective and insight from these videos. They were super and I had some a-ha moments. I look forward to joining this group, but unfortunately can't make tonight due to a transportation issue. Is there anyway we can capture bits and pieces of our discussion for group insight?--I believe it could really benefit someone in need of guidance.

    1 · February 27, 2014

    • Lynn

      I feel compelled to correct myself, although the correction is minor. The video I mentioned was posted by a Portuguese speaker, not a Spanish speaker. My mistake. I just don't want anyone to think I don't know the difference. Alright, compulsion time over, carry on.

      February 28, 2014

    • Jyoti M.

      CJ, Bravo! Thanks for concluding the series with such an ardor . Your selfless actions are prime examples of great "Karma". Please keep up with your passion !

      1 · March 2, 2014

  • Sidney

    (Cont'd) of the world, for whom the capacity for empathy is pretty much non-existent. Which to me makes it very hard to feel much if any empathy for THEM if they don't really give a hoot about empathy for OTHERS (and in Kurt Vonnegut's classic words "and so on and so on"). On the other hand, if you aren't too narcissistic and you're not a sociopath, and you put your mind and heart into it, then you are just what the doctor ordered to be part of (should you choose to go this route) a slow but stay-the-course movement for the spread of empathy. Speaking for myself anyway, I'm definitely in!

    1 · March 1, 2014

  • Sidney

    Sorry I missed Thursday night's I don't doubt typically great CJ-led meeting (although I will confess what I'm not sorry about is that I was away in Mexico for five days, with a temperature most days was 82 rather than 22 etc. etc.). Anyway, in my absentia, I wanted to take this opportunity to say that I thought Krznaric's video on empathy was terrific overall, Nevertheless, the psychologist plus realist in me says that unfortunately (and I can't know if a point like the one i'm about to make came up at all during the course of the meeting), trans-cultural/trans-religious/trans-racial empathy will always be impeded if not outright sabotaged by too many influential and/or high-ranking people in positions of leadership who are quite narcissistic at best and outright conscienceless and non-remorseful at worst. Therefore, empathy's "enemy" as an important part of trying to create large-scale social change will always be those all-too-numerous, pesky sociopaths (almost done I promise)

    March 1, 2014

  • cathy

    Thank you CJ for suggesting such a meaningful topic and being just the perfect host and thank you to everyone else for being so vulnerable and willing to share your thoughts and ideas for your art of living, so inspired and grateful to have shared that space!

    3 · February 28, 2014

  • Lee D.

    This was another tour de force by CJ who has introduced us all to such wonderful videos and provocative discussions. Thank you CJ and everyone else who shared their personal thoughts and experiences.

    1 · February 28, 2014

  • Charles N.

    We ended up going over our two hour time frame. Everybody kicked in their two cents - about 30 people, about 30 different ways to approach the art of living. A stimulating evening all around.

    1 · February 28, 2014

  • Scott S.

    One of the best meetups I've attended. Enjoyed hearing all the perspectives and listening for the common thread. Thanks for this group.

    1 · February 28, 2014

  • Erika

    I was swamped at work yesterday and for some strange reason, I couldn't log on to Meetup to change my RSVP,,, February has been a brutal month and I'll be working tomorrow too, to tie it up since they're calling for snow/sleet for Monday..... March is coming in like a LION!

    February 28, 2014

    • CJ F.

      The meetup site was down most of the day yesterday, so we understand that changing one's RSVP was beyond your control.

      I couldn't even get in to print an attendance list.

      It looks like the Meetup site is finally working again.

      February 28, 2014

  • Erika

    Lunch is almost over.... I enjoyed posting this!

    February 28, 2014

  • Erika

    I think it's important for people to have inner peace and build from there. If you've ever met people with a negative attitude, you know they are not happy with themselves. It's not the economy, it's not the environment, it's not your spouse, family, children. It is you! Change your attitude and you change everything!

    February 28, 2014

  • Erika

    One basic inspiration that my parents shared with me was to find one good thing each day regardless of what is going on. Without going into a lot of detail on their background, both my parent immigrated from Ukraine in the 1950's. My father was born in 1908 and lived through WWI, Russian Revolution and WWII. My mom was born in 1921 and also survived the Russian Revolution and WWII. Their childhood was filled with fear and terror, but you would never know it when you met them. Always a smile on their face and song in their heart.

    2 · February 28, 2014

  • Erika

    I actually didn't have time to look at the videos but if I'm snowed in, this is on my "TO DO" list on Monday!

    1 · February 28, 2014

  • CJ F.

    Tomorrow night we will discuss "The Art of Living: the How and Why of Living Our Lives".

    One thread in the discussion will be sources of inspiration for an Art of Living. Some ideas were in The Stanford course "The Art of Living". I have suggested videos with other ideas. A key question for tomorrow's discussion is what sources do you use to inform your Art of Living?

    Here is one more 18m video for inspiration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aja-8sYjNaY

    Young-ha Kim says we should all be artists, right now! Are we born artists? Is lying the genesis of story-telling? Is going a little nuts healthy? Is art the ultimate goal? He gives a great line from King Lear: "Who is it that can tell me who I am? Are we "from others"?

    Can we just be artists? Are you an artist at heart? In practice? Is art both the goal and the practice of an "art of living"? So are we all artists after all?

    Watch the 18m Young-ha Kim video: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/young_ha_kim_be_an_artist_right_now.html

    February 26, 2014

  • CJ F.

    In her delightful 13 minute video "The Meaning of Life", Jill Lapore looks at how happiness has changed vis-a-vis Milton Bradley's "invention" of the board game "Life": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YspXDn7z_6s

    In 1860, Bradley's "The Checkered Game Of Life" has good & bad in roughly equal number (is real life that bad?). In 1960 "The Game Of Life" has one winner going to Millionaire Acres & all others to the poorhouse; "it is just a shamelessly amoral and cash conscious monster of a board game". In the 1990s, a Spongebob Game of Life tried to develop a social conscious, but the only reward in the game is money. Then she traces the history to "The Game of Knowledge" in India and several fire and brimstone predecessors. In 2007 "Twists & Turns" is aimless: to experience all life has to offer.

    What can we learn from board games? Do they give us ideals for our Art of Living? You choose: what is your game?

    What Jill Lapore's short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YspXDn7z_6s

    February 25, 2014

  • Erika

    Since I was a child, my parents were a great inspiration to me, and it has carried over into adulthood. I was blessed growing up.

    1 · February 25, 2014

  • CJ F.

    From where do you get inspiration for your Art of Living? Do books, videos, role models, stories, rules, arguments, experience, plans, serendipity, discussions, meditation, or other sources move you? Do either of the two videos below inspire your Art of Living?

    In this exquisite 2 minute video Neil deGrasse Tyson incisively tells how to be yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOkFfvTGuGk

    Joshua Landy would probably applaud Tyson's sentiment.

    In this interesting commencement speech for the University of the Arts here in Philly, Neil Gaiman, extols us to "Make Good Art". He makes several poignant points: go beyond the possible through ignorance, the importance of failure and mistakes, do it for yourself not money, the problems of success (enjoy it!), express yourself, getting jobs (2 of good work, easy to get along with, meet deadlines are good enough). Useful? Inspiring? Should we reject his views because he lied on his resume? Watch Gaiman's 19m vid at https://vimeo.com/42372767

    February 24, 2014

  • CJ F.

    In this exquisite 10 minute video Roman Krznaric proposes an Art of Living instilled with outrospection (empathy): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG46IwVfSu8

    Krznaric sees an art of living as a philosophy of life. Is that correct?

    He thinks empathy can expand our moral universe, improve our creativity and relationships, and create the human bonds that make life worth living. He argues that empathy is about social change; he calls for a revolution of human relationships; a revolution of empathy as a collective force. He calls for expanding our empathic concern across space and time. He reinterprets Socrates to suggest that "to know thyself can also be achieved by stepping outside yourself."

    Can works such as George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" or this 10m video influence our Art of Living?

    Is empathy/outrospection an important Art of Living that was omitted from the Stanford course? Were there others?

    Watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG46IwVfSu8

    February 23, 2014

  • Charles N.

    My story, for better or worse, reflects the bigger picture. The impact of religious thought on human thought is undeniable and invaluable, burnings at the stake notwithstanding. The trauma's in the difficult but necessary detox, which should make for an interesting discussion.

    February 22, 2014

  • James F.

    certainties prepared in Rome and delivered by true believers such as priests and nuns! You used the word' sensitized '.I would need to add a rather nasty but necessary term ' traumatized ' as in,"If you do not think, believe a d

    February 21, 2014

  • James F.

    I've been right there wit you, CJ.It is truly a demanding role to fill, being 'out there' on your own w/o the metaphysical assurances and dogmatic certainties

    February 21, 2014

  • Charles N.

    My early religious training (Roman Catholic) first sensitized me to the idea that life could have a meaning. Moving beyond that all-encompassing structure to the idea of meaning as something we each need to construct for ourselves has been a life long project. To be continued.

    1 · February 20, 2014

  • CJ F.

    Next Thursday, weather permitting, we will discuss "The Art of Living: the How and Why of Living Our Lives".

    I want to explore the assumptions that R. Lanier Anderson, Kenneth Taylor, & Joshua Landy made in their free on-line course "The Art of Living". Therefore, I recommend critically watching (or re-watching) their introductory video (51 minutes): http://vimeo.com/20383042

    In addition, I'd like participants to think about where their inspiration for developing an "Art of Living" comes from. Can great texts inspire you? Which texts influenced you? Can an Art of Living be better learned from books or videos or role models? Story or prescription? Argument or experience? Planning or accident? Discussion or meditation? Something else?

    What is your approach to practicing an Art of Living?

    February 20, 2014

  • Charles N.

    Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.

    February 11, 2014

  • CJ F.

    From where do you get inspiration for your Art of Living? Do books, videos, or other sources move you? Do either of the two videos below impress you to adjust your Art of Living?

    In this exquisite 2 minute video Neil deGrasse Tyson incisively tells how to be yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOkFfvTGuGk

    Joshua Landy would probably applaud Tyson's sentiment.

    In this interesting commencement speech for the University of the Arts here in Philly, Neil Gaiman, extols us to "Make Good Art". But should we lie on our resumes as Gaiman admits to doing? He makes several other poignant points. Which ones move you? Watch Gaiman's speech at https://vimeo.com/42372767


    Although I'm still hoping the snow, ice, and sleet will keep away, we are making plans to postpone the discussion to Thu Feb 27th if the projections look as bad tomorrow as they do today. I will send another message regardless to ensure that everyone knows what is happening. What do you recommend?

    February 11, 2014

  • Charles N.

    By pure chance, I happened to reread William Wordsworth's "Westminster Bridge" today in connection with a blog piece I'm working on. The impact this little poem has had on my view of the world still takes me as much by surprise as it did when I first read it in high school.

    February 9, 2014

    • Charles N.

      It was the first piece of poetry that struck me with a sense of how what things invoke in the human observer, more than the simple "taking in" of the raw stuff of reality, gives human life its beauty, purpose and meaning. I'm writing a blog in response to questions regarding my use of the phrase "the post religious world" in my book's title - I was paging through my good old anthology to find "The World is Too Much With Us" by the same author as an example of a pre-Darwinian expression of regret for the passing of the religious world view, and there was "Bridge" on the facing page. It always seems to show up when I need it.

      February 10, 2014

    • Jennifer A.

      This is a beautiful poem, thanks for sharing.

      February 11, 2014

  • Mike W.

    “When someone seeks," said Siddhartha, "then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
    ― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

    2 · February 10, 2014

  • CJ F.

    In this exquisite 10 minute video Roman Krznaric proposes an Art of Living instilled with empathy or outrospection: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG46IwVfSu8

    Krznaric sees an art of living as a philosophy of life. Is that correct?

    He thinks empathy can expand our moral universe, improve our creativity and relationships, and create the human bonds that make life worth living. He argues that empathy is about social change; he calls for a revolution of human relationships; a revolution of empathy as a collective force. He calls for expanding our empathic concern across space and time. He reinterprets Socrates to suggest that "to know thyself can also be achieved by stepping outside yourself."

    Can works such as George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" or this 10m video influence our Art of Living?

    Is empathy/outrospection an important Art of Living that was omitted from the Stanford course? Were there others?

    Watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG46IwVfSu8

    February 10, 2014

  • CJ F.

    My plan for Thursday's discussion on "The Art of Living: the How and Why of Living Our Lives" is, in part, to explore the assumptions that R. Lanier Anderson, Kenneth Taylor, & Joshua Landy made in their free on-line course "The Art of Living". Therefore, I recommend watching (or re-watching) the introductory video for the course: http://vimeo.com/20383042

    In addition, I'd like participants to think about where their inspiration for developing an "Art of Living" comes from. Can great texts inspire you? Which texts influenced you? Can an Art of Living be better learned from books or videos or role models? Story or prescription? Argument or experience? Planning or accident? Discussion or meditation? Something else?

    What is your approach to practicing an Art of Living?

    February 9, 2014

  • Lesley F.

    I am really excited to get a chance to attend this discussion group.

    1 · February 8, 2014

  • Jennifer A.

    Unless there's a conflict, I'm there! This is too good to pass up. I love the topic.

    1 · January 23, 2014

  • lora

    hi i wanted to know why the RSVP is closed for this event ?

    January 9, 2014

    • CJ F.

      Lora, we open RSVPs 2-3 weeks before an event. When we open events too early, the number of no-shows is too high. RSVPs for this event will open on Jan 23rd. In general our event RSVPs open about 1 week before they are announced. If you see an event that particularly interests you, set a reminder to RSVP on the first date possible.

      Because the group is so popular, once an event is announced it tends to fill up very quickly. Although the waitlist often move quickly (sometimes as many as 10 waitlisted people will eventually get in), sometimes the waitlists don't move much at all. The best strategy to get into our events is to watch the site once or twice a week and RSVP before the event is announced.

      January 10, 2014

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