Sunday, November 27, 2016

Finding My Nietzsche

Having studied a bit of philosophy in college, I was familiar with the Greeks -- Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus -- and the Romans, such as Seneca and Virgil, but considered myself something of a novice when it came to English and French philosophers, and particularly the Germans, such as Kant and Nietzsche.

My familiarity with Nietzsche had less to do with his books on philosophy and more to do with his pithy quotes: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” “The doer alone learneth.” “There are not facts, only interpretations.” And finally: "We love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving."

But last summer, as I was bemoaning the trials and travails of travel, I discovered new insight into the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche. I had no idea how much I had in common with this German illuminato until reading The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain Botton. One chapter focuses on “The Consolations For Difficulties.”

Friedrich Nietzsche was among the first to suggest that difficulties of all varieties should be welcomed by those seeking fulfillment: kind of a you-gotta-get-through-hell-before-you-get-to-heaven outlook on life, a seemingly illogical yet enlightening concept that provided perspective as I negotiated the labryrinth of overseas travel.

Nietzsche didn’t always believe the theory of “no pain, no gain.” Initially, he concurred with philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “The prudent man strives for freedom from pain, not pleasure. The key for those seeking contentment was to recognize the impossibility of fulfillment and avoid troubles and anxieties at all costs."

"(We should) direct our aim not to what is pleasant and agreeable in life, but to the avoidance -- as far as possible -- to its numberless evils,” wrote Nietzsche in a letter to his mother and sister. “The happiest lot is that of the man who has got through life without very great pain, bodily or mental.”

Later, Nietzsche changed his mind. Avoiding pain rather than seeking pleasure now struck Nietzsche as both timid and untrue, a perverse attempt to remain “hidden in forests like shy deer.” Fulfillment would not be reached by avoiding pain, but by recognizing its role as a natural, inevitable step on the way to reach anything good.

An enlightening epiphany when I needed consolation in the Torino airport en route to Eugene with no money nor identification after my wallet had been stolen. Nietzsche contended it was impossible to attain a fulfilled life without feeling miserable some of the time. Very true, it turned out; I had experienced a great trip otherwise.

What if pleasure and displeasure were so connected that whoever wanted as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other? he asked. You have a choice: either as little displeasure as possible (painlessness, in brief), or as much displeasure as possible as the price for the experience of joys rarely relished.

“Examining the lives of those who have achieved great success in life, you must ask if a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with adverse weather? Whether through misfortune, external forces or other unfavorable conditions, personal growth (even virtue) is scarcely possible.” Realizing this truism, I felt better.

The other connection I have with the German sophist is that he was, in both a practical and spiritual sense, "of the mountains." Escaping Germany, Nietzsche lived in the small mountain community of Sils-Maria near St. Moritz in Switzerland. He had fallen in love with the climate and topography of The Alps.

Renting a room in a chalet with views of the mountains, he would rise at 5 a.m. and work until midday, then take walks up the huge peaks encircling the village. Nietzsche believed an affinity existed between his philosophy and the mountains, and claimed that “only thoughts which come from walking have any value.”

But to understand his “mountain philosophy” and its correlation with overcoming difficulties, you must grasp the nature of mountain climbing. As you might expect, it’s not easy trekking uphill for hours along steep paths, maneuvering around boulders and growing breathless in the thin air while crunching through perpetual snows.

The summit, by contrast, is sublime. But overcoming difficulties are, of course, sadly not enough. All lives are difficult. What makes some fulfilled as well is how the difficulties have been addressed. Anxiety may precipitate panic, or an accurate analysis of what is amiss. Fortunately, in my time of need, I chose the latter.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Brand New Day

This month marks the end of a era, as well as the beginning of a new one, for members of the Public Relations Society of America in Oregon and Southwest Washington. The organization’s national board approved the merger of the state’s three chapters -- Portland Metro, Oregon Capital and Greater Oregon -- into one: PRSA Oregon.

Over the past several years, the two smaller chapters based in Salem and Eugene-Springfield have experienced governance challenges to varying degrees. As a result, volunteer leadership has grown increasingly concerned with the sustainability of programs and services for members across the state due to these challenges.

So last December, the boards of the three chapters formed a limited duration joint task force known as the Oregon Statewide Governance Committee to formally investigate whether our collective governance challenges would be solved by merging into one statewide chapter, thus sharing the workload and increasing member value.

The PRSA Greater Oregon Chapter dates back to its genesis in the late 1980s. Previously, communications professionals in the Eugene-Springfield area were part of a loose confederation known as the PR Roundtable. Thanks to the leadership efforts of Liz Cawood, APR, this group morphed into the PRSA Greater Oregon Chapter in 1990.

A founding member of the group, I joined the board of the PRSA Greater Oregon Chapter and became professional advisor to the University of Oregon chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, and have now served in both of those roles for over two decades.
In that time, I’ve worked with the best in the profession (you know who you are) since my transition from newspaper reporter to PR practitioner. Besides my colleagues in Oregon, my cheeky comrades from PRSA North Pacific District continue to reach new levels of notoriety at national conference (again, you know who you are).

As a PRSSA advisor, I’ve thoroughly valued working with my student teams (featured throughout this post). My hope is they have learned as much from me as I have from all of them. As per my role in PRSA, I will continue in a new position on the board of PRSA Oregon as leadership assembly delegate. I know. What were they thinking?