The Reasonable Adventurer. COMMENTARY: LIFE IDEALS
TWO expensive cars brushed against each other in the near-gridlock of Boston traffic. The drivers, ruddy men of means and tailored grooming, leaped out, shouting and cursing at each other like two linebackers in a beer commercial. From a distance it was clear that these were not the kind of men Roy Heath would have loved to know. Not much subtlety here, not much tolerance for ambiguity. These men fell easily for the notion of self-pity over their possessions. I am my car, they bellowed in a sea of cars.
Dr. Heath, a psychologist, became a faculty adviser to 36 undergraduates at Princeton University between 1951 and 1954. Over the four years, by talking with each man once a week or more, he measured the impact of the university on their lives. Then he wrote a book about his experience titled, ``The Reasonable Adventurer.''
This paperback book, as far as I can determine, didn't receive much attention either academic or popular in 1964 when it was published. It came at a time when universities were aflame with other ideas about life and politics.
Yet for those who read over or through the obligatory jargon and methodology to the heart of the book, there was a most daring surprise which has value today. I exaggerate a little here, but Heath discovered what might be called the ideal man.
From his marathon talks with the 36 students, Heath observed that a handful emerged after four years quite different from the others. These men shared a number of wonderful attributes: a sense of humor, breadth of interests, tolerance of ambiguity, independence in value judgments, close friendships, and intellectual acumen.
Heath concluded that these exemplary men - give or take a frailty or two - should be called Reasonable Adventurers. He wrote, ``The principal characteristic of the Reasonable Adventurer is his ability to create his own opportunities for satisfaction ... he is an adventurer but his adventures make sense.''
The adventurer could ``attack the problems of everyday life with zest and originality. And he seemed to do so with an air of playfulness.'' The adventurer didn't hesitate to struggle intellectually or draw strength from his close friendships. He was not afraid to suspend judgment until he was clear on what he knew.
Heath wrote that ``differences which arise between a Reasonable Adventurer and others are not so much taken as a personal affront. Rather, they provide for him an occasion to reflect upon his own judgment.''
As for a sense of humor, the adventurer had ``...a fluidity of mind which permitted him to shift quickly his point of view in each situation with which he was confronted. Also, his reservoir of deeper and better-digested experiences enabled him to see beyond the stereotyped or common view.''
Heath said he once brought together seven Reasonable Adventurers for an evening of discussion. ``It was a memorable occasion,'' he concluded simply.
Perhaps in the end this study merely confirmed the triumph of a liberal arts education at Princeton, a triumph which, according to Heath, created a ``generalist who can evaluate ends as well as means.''
Occasionally I wonder what became of these men in the 35 tumultuous years since their graduation. Did they lead productive, fulfilling lives? Did they continue to mature? If they married, were they husbands and fathers who cherish uniqueness in others? Were they ethical men unabashedly practicing morality while they served their communities and loved their families?
Or did they falter, gradually tricked by power and personal success, until years later on a Boston street they might leap from their expensive cars as crude, loud symbols in the age of possessions?