Today's perspective comes from guest blogger Alyson Greenlee, a newly-minted twenty-something MBA who immediately impressed me.   I enjoy Alyson's thinking, so I asked her if I could share one of her thoughtful and provocative questions here.  Enjoy! -- Sue


What part of you is not for sale?

Last night I had the amazing experience of seeing Peter Sellars, theater director and UCLA Professor, speak during the second installment of the undergraduate UC Berkeley class Edible Education (which is open to the public every week!) It's been a while since I've been in a lecture that made me so uncomfortable.

Sellars seemed like a surprising pick as a speaker for a series about food. Thespian was obvious-- he grabbed the mic, ran out into the audience, and spoke like a crazed Shakespearean but with a grave message, and the audience hushed into awe at the grandness of his vision right away. His point on food was what we eat is a moral choice that we make everyday, but undergrads (and those of us who wanted to be undergrads again) were not left to judge just our meal-time behaviors. Careers, cultures, philosophies of a market economy were all indicted. He said that in this world where our economic system collapsed, was propped up, then collapsed again, we are clinging to a way of being that wasn't sustainable in the first place. In a world where we have built rules to prop up food products that lack any of the original properties of food-- what has value anymore? what is value?

Value, he said, is in doing things that the market doesn't want you to do. (Wait did I hear that correctly?)

"Anything that you can actually be paid for, doesn't need to be done. Anything that you can't be paid for, needs to be done. Imagine the world that you want to live in. Look for the thing that doesn't exist, for which there is no job, and that is the thing that desperately needs to be done. Create that thing, and create the ecosystem for that thing. And then live in that new world with your thing in it."

This is the man who according to wikipedia put on a production of Antony and Cleopatra in the swimming pool as a student at Harvard.

He challenged us to ask ourselves-- What part of you is not for sale? What part of you is actually you?

When asked how to afford this lifestyle by a student who obviously was of a similar mind as me, Sellars cited Indian chanters who refuse to accept money for their art--their songs--but instead work as cooks on the side for money.

He added-- "You will never have that life you keep putting off. If you say, 'I'll do that after I make my money...' it will never happen."

Obviously Sellars is preaching (and it definitely felt like church) morality, so the entire argument is subjective. His idea of a life well spent was by standards entirely of his own. I couldn't help thinking about his extreme righteousness at not working for Citibank, and wondering how different it really was than his posts at prestigious institutions of higher ed (especially after watching Inside Job and seeing how higher ed had such a role in perpetuating ignorance). And his charge, "Don't confuse money with life-- those who do will be sad"-- seems like a statement aimed only at the population above a comfortable standard of living.

As a recent MBA grad, I laughed when he told people in the audience to not fall into the trap of opposition; "Make friends in the business school and the law school too" (thus perpetuating more stereotypes and opposition... and he's obviously never met a Babson student ;)  Yo Sellars! Business : Entrepreneurship :: Following : Creating!

In the middle of my 2011 post-MBA job search, I guess I'm the post-natural-selection-extinction predator still hunting the animal by looking for a job. And I hear myself saying that exact "After I make my money..." line. I felt indicted by Sellars' talk. I went to business school to create something. Life takes turns, but you have to do what you would be doing if nobody was paying you-- and find a way to afford that life. The dream is that you do what you love, and eventually you get paid for it (obviously the route that Sellars was blessed with) but don't hold out for it. Paid or not, don't give it up no matter what-- as Howard Zinn said, whatever freedom or democracy we have never came from people with jobs. As an MBA, that's a hard line to swallow. But it's time to stop following, stop expecting things to be the way they've always been, and start creating.

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Comment by Alyson Greenlee on December 7, 2011 at 2:54pm

Thanks so much for the feedback Natalie, and for posting the link to the lectures-- sadly the class is now over but they can all be watched online. Hope to run into you around Berkeley!

Comment by Natalie Forsythe on December 7, 2011 at 9:38am

Thanks, Alyson!  Great post.  It sounds like it was a provocative lecture, to be sure.  As a sustainability food nut, an educator, and a Berkeley resident, I was most excited to hear about this lecture series at Cal.  After a bit of research, I realized that the class has now ended.  After a moment of sadness about that, I realized that all of the lectures are posted online.  Here is the Edible Education lecture series link, if anyone else is interested.



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