Friday, December 22, 2006

You DO Have to Be Einstein

Albert Einstein was extremely generous about world opinion in general, and the American people in particular, when he said in a 1921 interview:

It is a welcome symptom in an age which is commonly denounced as materialistic, that it makes heroes of men whose goals lie wholly in the intellectual and moral sphere. This proves that knowledge and justice are ranked above wealth and power by a large section of the human race. My experience teaches me that this idealistic outlook is particularly prevalent in America, which is decried as a singularly materialistic country. (Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein, page 4)

How interesting that in the face of rising European Fascism, with its political motivations, Einstein persisted with such an optimistic viewpoint about humanity. I wonder, however, what he would say about the state of human affairs some 85 years later, in light of technological advances, which have created a world of virtual anythings that have insulated us from actual experience and insolated us from each other.

As a corporate trainer, I have had the privilege of discussing what our society most values with an impressive range of well-educated people from around the world and from diverse professional disciplines. I think the consensus is that Einstein would retract his statement today. As a society, do we prize intellectual and moral achievement over financial and political gain? If the newspapers we read accurately reflect what we value, then go no further than the entertainment, fashion, sports, society, stock, and scandal pages (did I leave out anything but the funnies?) to see what matters most to us. We are inundated with an information overload that gives us scarce time to reflect on the data’s value. In a sense, the lightning speed at which the information passes through our lives from the levels of high urgency to instant oblivion has become like a drug that devalues human interaction. Today, I’m sure Einstein would say, “Forget what the media and technology tell you is wisdom and find wisdom for yourselves.”

I usually recommend to participants of my writing seminars that they read inside their field to maintain their subject-matter expertise and outside their field to cultivate their knowledge of ideas and their command of language. Yet many people unabashedly confess that they do not read much. My response never varies: “You cannot become a good writer without becoming a good reader, and you become a good reader by reading regularly and eclectically.”

Here’s my advice for whoever is reading this note: To become a better writer, keep reading like a writer: read, reflect, respond (in writing, of course), repeat.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: