The previous blog was about Henry David Thoreau’s concept of ‘living deliberately.’ The topic came up because one of my former graduate students and I just finished a magazine article about Walden. In the two months Sara and I have been collaborating on the manuscript, two interesting asides have come to mind. 

First, I realized that Sara and I are writing an article about Thoreau’s notion of living deliberately from opposite ends of our respective adult lives. I am sixty-four years old and retired; Sara is somewhere around thirty and thinking about starting a Ph.D. program. Will she heed Thoreau’s message any better than I did? I read Walden and Wild Apples and Walking and Civil Disobedience when I was Sara’s age, but then went ahead and pursued a life not unlike the one Thoreau was warning against. Certainly a career as a professor has more autonomy than most, but I still allowed job, community, and family to significantly impact the way I live. I appreciated Walden’s main message, then pretty much kicked it down the road. Thoreau once wrote that he saw no reason to heed the advice of his elders, because they all led lives that suggested that they had nothing to teach him. I have strongly encouraged Sara to follow my career path and go after her Ph.D., but how can I be sure that this is good mentoring?

Secondly, the article that Sara and I are writing will appear in a Chinese publication called College English (大学英语). The target audience is young adults in the People’s Republic of China who want to read adult-level content in simple, straightforward English. The irony is that much of Thoreau’s message comes directly from Asian philosophy. The readers of our article could garner the same advice straight from the horse’s mouth by reading the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita. If they read the article by Sara and me, they will be getting our interpretation of Thoreau’s interpretation of Chinese and East Indian thought. This does not bother me in the least. From my own anecdotal observations, young Chinese are as career-oriented and money-driven as any group of people I know. If they are learning about the Tao or about Hindu thought in school or in their free time, it is not sinking in any better than Thoreau did for me when I was young.  Anything that Sara and I can do to encourage young people (regardless of country) to slow down is time well spent. On this topic, I have no second thoughts about offering advice.