Monday, August 15, 2005

Publish Your Own Obituary Here!

Amitai ’s memoir, My Brother’s Keeper, is delightful and inspiring. Early on, when faced with a choice between a successful academic career and an activist’s life, he recounts spending a weekend of . Here’s that passage:

“Ethicists advise people to use a device to clarify their life goals. They suggest writing your own . Look at your life from the end backward, they recommend, and determine what it is you wish you had accomplished. Then examine yourself candidly to determine if the life you lead is going to get you there.

“Instead, I composed an epitaph that weekend that read: ‘Here lies one who cared, who labored hard to serve purposes greater than self, one who attempted the best he could, within his limited abilities, to make the world better than it would otherwise be.’ A briefer inscription came to me: ‘One Who Served.’’’

But on the next day, Etzioni wavered, asking himself, “How could I make a contribution to the world if I were out in the street, preoccupied with trying to make a living?” He told his wife he would go to no more rallies against the bomb. He’d stick to sociology.

“That’ll be the day,” she grinned.

In the end, Etzioni resolved that somehow he’d do both. He’d be such a productive scholar that nobody could deny him recognition — and he’d do peace too.

He succeeded amazingly well. (Read the book and you’ll agree.) Or see his blog at

I’ve been thinking about my own obituary ever since. What an excellent exercise! It’s supposed to be especially effective if you let other people see what you’ve written. I’ve decided to write mine and publish it here, so I can never deny what my goals were. Moreover, everyone should have the same opportunity. Hence, here’s my one-time-only offer: Write your obituary, in 150 words or less, and post it as a comment to today’s blog. Unless you write something outrageously offensive, I’ll leave it here for everyone to read. That way, you’ll be committed, just as I will be. I won’t speculate about how realistic my goals are, but not one of them is impossible, and some have already been attained. Here goes:

“Here lies Metta Spencer, . Besides sustaining rich relationships with her fine friends, she tried to leave the world in better condition than when she’d found it. Her influential sociology textbook, Foundations of Modern Sociology, appeared in nine editions. Her book Bears and Doves documented the remarkable influence of the international peace movement on Soviet military policy. For decades she edited Peace Magazine. Her book Two Aspirins and a Comedy raised public awareness of entertainment’s impact on audiences’ health; emotional well-being; moral dispositions; and approaches to societal problems. That book, plus her blog and other writings, prompted TV to create several new serials showing benign ways of handling difficult issues. In her later years, she assisted the producers of two acclaimed shows, Green Cross in the Middle East, and A Nonviolent Peaceforce, to develop several episodes with enlightening plots. RIP, Metta.”

Now it’s your turn. May your obituary be wonderful!


Anonymous rex said...

An obituary is a notice of death. This is not an obituary; this is a notice of life! Obituaries are written about somebody; this notice is written by a somebody. Nobody knows a somebody better than that somebody does. But even what that somebody knows is imperfect! Never-the-less, this is what I’d now like to say to future generations. I like to think of it as ‘my wisdom’, but of course what we call ‘wisdom’ is really only our impressions of ‘what worked for us’; it carries no guarantees that it will work for others, but it should be worth some serious consideration.
We’re all in the same boat! Nobody knows anything for sure about the future! All our ‘knowings’ must be confirmed; by further experience (either our own or someone else’s). A lot of those confirmations will be done by way of words (like these). This introduces another complication. Words about our experiences are never as sure as experience itself. So please test ‘my wisdom’ for yourself to see if it really does make the world a bit better.
That’s my ‘bit (of wisdom)!

11:27 AM  
Blogger Metta Spencer said...

Very wise. But it's a different project. What you wrote is something for other people. What I proposed is that you write something for yourself. The people who swear by this technique say that it's especially effective when you tell others what you have written because that somehow commits you to pursue the goals you have claimed as your own most serious ones. I think I've figured out something important: that I'm probably not going to live forever. So I'd better pay closer attention to my goals for maximizing the balance of whatever time I have. That's why I like this “obituary" idea.

But there are other people who use a similar notion without supposing you're dead. Elise Boulding used to have her peace studies courses visualize in very specific detail a world without war in some future date. Then she had them visualize the period ten years before that. And then ten years before that, and so on, right to the present. The process took a whole day and the students discussed their fantasies with each other and were allowed to borrow, as I recall. It made it very clear what stages people had to go through to reach a world without war, and also the institutional arrangements that would have to be in place to handle conflict in such a war.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous David Last said...

I like your obituary (vivituary?) Metta, and wish you well with the projects. Your book, Two Aspirins and a Comedy changed the way I view the entertainment industry, and I hope your optimistic vision for its future materializes - I know you have a contribution to make. Greetings from Mongolia. David.

9:16 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home