I brought along several books to read during my trip. The one I started with, which I have nearly finished, is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. It was recommended to me because I feel that I suffer from inefficiency and there is a chapter on time management. That chapter was somewhat helpful but it was the rest of the book that I really found interesting.
The premise of the book is that most self-improvement books today are based on what he calls the "personality ethic" -- use these techniques and think in this way, and you will be a success. On the other hand, his book focuses on the "character ethic" -- incorporate the following principles into your character in order to find success.
Something I really liked about the book was that unlike many other books I've read, success is not defined as getting a promotion, making lots of money, other people liking you, etc. Those are all external goals over which you may or may not have control. No, success is defined quite differently -- being an actualized, happy human being, a person of principle, a person who adheres to the principles of fairness, integrity, human dignity, etc.
And ultimately, that has always been my goal in life, too. As nice as it is to make a lot of money or be popular, those are not enough. I strive to be a person of principle who leaves the world a little bit better than she found it. It is my sense of fairness and belief in human dignity that cause me to advocate for marriage equality, for example. So it was pretty exciting to see a book that promised guidance to help me become even better at what I already want to do.
According to this book, there are seven habits, three of which are classified as "private victories", three as "public victories", and then the last one involves renewing the other six habits. The private victories are ways to achieve personal character, while the public victories involve interaction with others. With successful actualization of the first three habits, one can go from dependence to independence, and with the second three, from independence to interdependence, which is the highest goal.
A fascinating concept which I already knew but had never verbalized was the Abundance and Scarcity mentalities. The basic idea is that there are some people who see the world from the Abundance Mentality -- that there is enough for everyone -- while others have the Scarcity Mentality -- that anyone else's good fortune comes at my expense.
I think that the Scarcity Mentality is pervasive in this country -- quite ironic, given that we are one of the richest countries in the world. If we instead collectively held the Abundance Mentality, we might see that there is enough healthcare for all, and implement a single-payer healthcare system like our neighbors in Canada and our peers in Europe. We might be more willing to pool our resources in support of the collective benefit to our country, and provide sick leave for all employees and longer, paid family medical leave; more money for schools in economically depressed areas and more scholarships for higher education.
But it's not only the scarcity mentality that causes these problems -- it's also a lack of understanding of synergy (synergy is another "habit"). What would happen if inner-city schools' success rates mirrored rich suburbs? It would transform our country! Here's the thing: providing money for inner-city schools takes away from my spending money in the short-term, but it helps me in the long term. When those kids go to school instead of joining gangs, I save money on police, judicial system, and prison costs. When some of those kids become nurses and doctors, I get better access to healthcare. And when some of those kids become scientists, I get more American peers instead of having to rely on the brain drain from other countries to feed the American scientific machine. Furthermore, there would be more heads to think about ways to solve the serious problems we face in this world. The rising prosperity of the residents of inner-cities would raise the fortunes of us all. There is more than enough to go around.
Anyhow, I'm really enjoying this book and I'm glad I read it!