Thinking young and thinking old: The best of both worlds

(Photo: DY, 2015)

(Photo: DY, 2015)

So here’s the question for the day: In looking for books that help us to play the game of life, should we seek insights that encourage us to be young and adventurous or old and wise? Our popular culture worships youth, but there’s much to be said for maturity, too.

How about seeking out both perspectives?!

On that note, here are two books that might be interesting back-to-back reads: Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity (2010) and Charles D. Hayes’s The Rapture of Maturity (2004). They were written with different generational audiences in mind, the former pitched at younger folks, the latter aimed at older folks.

From Hayes’s Autodidactic.com website, here’s a description of The Rapture of Maturity:

The Rapture of Maturity affirms the joys of discovery and insight that accompany thoughtful reflection on our years of lived experience and a pursuit of deeper understanding. It encourages the kind of thinking that can transform human relations on a global scale.

Rapture is the reward of living authentically and acting deliberately to leave the world a better place than we found it. For those who seek such a goal, this book is indispensable.

And here’s an online description of Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity:

If you’ve ever thought, “There must be more to life than this,” The Art of Non-Conformity is for you.

Based on Chris Guillebeau’s popular online manifesto “A Brief Guide to World Domination,” The Art of Non-Conformity defies common assumptions about life and work while arming you with the tools to live differently. You’ll discover how to live on your own terms by exploring creative self-employment, radical goal-setting, contrarian travel, and embracing life as a constant adventure.

Publisher’s Weekly aptly noted that “although directed at readers of all ages, [Guillebeau’s] message is likely to appeal most to those without dependents.” So consider the interesting twist: A book that understandably may be discounted as unrealistic by parents raising kids may suddenly be more relevant to them once they become empty nesters.

And for those who are younger, what better way to get a head start on what’s important in life than to read about lessons learned by Charles Hayes, an insightful, thoughtful, largely self-taught philosopher and writer of more senior vintage?

Favorite parts

Each book is full of inspiration, sound advice, and thought provoking observations. Here are parts from each that stand out for me:

In a chapter titled “Graduate School vs. the Blogosphere,” The Art of Non-Conformity explores the question of grad school vs. independent learning. Guillebeau shares his own graduate school experience (a master’s degree program in international affairs) and compares its time, cost, and activities to the benefits of pursuing a largely self-defined course of independent study.

He includes a suggested outline for a “One Year, Self-Directed, Alternative Graduate School Experience,” basically a low-cost, do-it-yourself program of reading, multi-media learning, travel, and online publishing. For lifelong learning junkies, this is catnip and gets the wheels turning. It’s a wonderful reminder of how much good stuff is out there for independent learners.

For me, the most memorable passage of The Rapture of Maturity is a story of regret that Hayes shares from his younger days when he lived for a short time in a boarding house:

In the room next to mine was an old man in his eighties who often asked me to have dinner with him. Most of the time I was in too much of a hurry and declined. When I did accept his invitation, I ate quickly and never stayed very long. The recurring memory I have today sees through that old man’s screen door to the table always set with an extra plate in case he might have company for dinner. Today I understand that he was lonely. Back then I didn’t have the time or the patience to notice.

Hayes goes on to explore the role of regret in helping us to shape better lives. “Reflecting on this kind of unfinished business,” he writes, “prepares us for similar decisions in the future.”

Freedom and responsibility

For me, at least, the broader takeaways from these books, considered together, is that life is a balance of freedom and responsibility. It’s about the freedom to do things and make decisions about one’s life, along with a self-defined responsibility to live in a meaningful, authentic, and difference-making way.

Within those very broad parameters, there may be plenty of room to navigate between family, friends, work, faith and spirituality, and various activities.

Not everyone has these choices. Life’s opportunities are not equally distributed, and for some they may be very constricted. But for those who are blessed with, at the very least, some capacity to create these options, these two books may be valuable.

2 responses

  1. Very thoughtful and intriguing review, David! These aren’t the kinds of books I’d normally reach for but you got me interested and re-considering!

    1. Kerry, thanks much for your comment, as always! The Hayes book is especially one of my favorites. I feel like I’m reading the words of a wise man whose life experiences have taught him much, and now he’s blending those insights with his own study of philosophy, politics, and society.

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