Every other month, I get to go to the meetings of Elder Journey, where there is usually a wide-ranging and stimulating discussion. Today we were talking about religious responses to the global environmental crisis, and I raised the question of what texts Unitarian Universalists might consult for help or inspiration on this kind of ethical issue.

Cecil Bridges had a great response, which he gave me permission to quote here: “You don’t get your ethics by reading the ‘Seven Principles,’ but by living.”

The same, obviously, holds true for any text, including the usual sacred texts.

One piano lesson

Novelist Iris Murdoch once met Ludwig Wittgenstein, the great philosopher. Murdoch reported that Wittgenstein said: “What’s the good of having one philosophical discussion? It’s like having one piano lesson.”

As someone who was trained in philosophy, I’d say Wittgenstein got it right (as he so often does): one piano lesson is barely enough time to learn that this is a piano, and you sit on a bench in front of it and use your fingers to play it; one philosophical discussion is enough time learn that human beings think, and that they can think carefully and even with precision about a broad array of topics.

And I’d go further and say that Unitarian Universalist Sunday services (and Sunday school classes) are a lot like philosophical discussions, with the addition of music and candles. Sure, you can go to one or two Sunday services, or send your kids to one or two Sunday school classes, and that’s worth doing because then at least you’ll know that human beings can think carefully and even with precision about a broad array of topics. But it’s going to take more than one or two lessons before you’ll be able to play the piano.

Which helps explain why, in today’s immediate-gratification society, Unitarian Universalism can be a tough sell. I mean, why take piano lessons when you can stream great music online? And why learn how to think when Twitter tells you all you need to know about the world?

A theory of organizational analysis

Tucked into some papers that I brought back when cleaning out my father’s condo, I found a handwritten note on which was written a theory of organizational analysis. While this should be considered a theory subject to additional testing, given my limited experience in both the for-profit and the nonprofit worlds, this theory sounds like a pretty good model for larger organizations (more than 20 staffers or employees).

The [Robert] Harper Principle of Organization

Persons with aggressive personalities and big mouths will naturally gravitate into management.


Within any given organization, those persons with the loudest voices and most aggressive personalities will become the managers regardless of their inherent ability.