March 17, 2011

Sitzbook Thoughts: "The Art of Non-Conformity," Take Two

I know I did a brief review of this book in another post a week or so ago, but I got a comment from a reader and current student that I wanted to reply to.

I want to stress here that this was a comment by a student of mine, so I don't want this post to seem confrontational or overly critical. But after reading his comment, I got the feeling that I didn't to a very good job of expressing what the book was really about, so I wanted to expand the review a bit more and respond to my student's comment.

As I mentioned before, the book is about living life according to your own rules, but it's not anarchistic by any means. Instead, the author, Chris Guillebeau, wrote the book to encourage people stuck in unsatisfying careers or living life without motivation. I admire Guillebeau quite a lot; his goal is to travel to every country in the world before his 35th birthday, and at the last time I checked his site, I believe he had already been to 150 or so. For a travel fan like myself, that's pretty incredible and inspiring in and of itself. 

The book's target audience is basically someone who feels like he or she is going through life and doing what society expects from him or her, but who still feels like something is missing. He talks about how you can stop being a "sleepwalker" by taking control of your dreams, challenging conventional authority when it's illogical, and setting the terms of your own life. If anything, it's a self-help book with a bit of Guillebeau's personal story mixed in.

In my student's comment, he said that Guillebeau wasn't a god, and that he still needed rules in his life. Very true, and I think that Guillebeau would be the first to agree that he's not a god, and in fact, he does talk about religion a few times in the book. Various passages indicate the he's an active member of a church community, and in his suggestions for living a fulfilling life, he emphasizes the importance of observing a sabbath. He does stop short of endorsing any specific religion or belief, but I suppose that that's the nature of publishing a book that will reach a large readership, with readers of different faiths.

Obviously, if my student hasn't read the book, then he'd not know these details, and I'm not criticizing him for that; I'm just trying to clarify something that I didn't express very clearly in my first review. What I do disagree with in my student's comment was when he said that people need to obey to be free. This is a matter of personal opinion (on my part and on his), but I think this statement isn't true. 

I agree that most people who want to have a complete life should look to something beyond their own, selfish experience. My student said that he uses the Bible for guidance, and that's fine. I would argue that the Bible doesn't have a monopoly on truth and ethics, though. I think that as long as we're looking beyond ourselves and our own egos and trying to live lives that helps others, then we'll likely have a better chance at being successful and happy than if we just try to be an island unto ourselves. But in the end, that still seems to be a choice, and although there may certainly be consequences if we go our own way, it's nevertheless a possibility.

Still, the part of the comment that I disagree with most is the notion that in order to be free, we must obey. That's also a notion I feel Guillebeau would disagree with (even just based on the title of his book). One common thread among great leaders and historical figures that have inspired me is that they didn't obey the conventional rules of their time. That seems to me to be the case with Malcolm X, Abraham Lincoln, countless great authors, and even Jesus himself. I think if they had obeyed the rules of their times, then we probably never would have heard of them.

But, then again, that's a personal opinion, and we're all entitled to our opinions.

Speaking of opinions, I'd be more than happy to hear yours in the comments section, whether you've read the book or not. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

To my student who made the original comment: I'd like to thank you again for reading the blog and for taking the time to leave a comment, especially since it's a bit intimidating to do in a language that isn't your mother tongue. I hope this blog isn't too confrontational; in fact, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts. Also, I'll bring the book to class this evening if you're interested in taking a look at it. 

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

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