When I joined the Peace Corps, I told my friends and family that I just wanted to help other people. There is some truth to that. In those days, I was reading a lot of Gandhi, and I spent many nights reflecting in the pages of my journal on a worthy way to live a life. I’d also become a volunteer at a crisis counseling center (aptly named “The Listening Ear”) in which I took phone calls from the thousands of lonely and depressed persons who lived near Lansing, Michigan. In addition to Gandhi, I was reading Buscaglia’s Love book. When you mix Buscaglia with just the right amount of Gibran, Krishnamurti, and Bach (Richard, not Johann Sebastian), you can’t help but want to do something for someone else.
But there was more to the decision than just this; there was also the teaching. In my senior year at Michigan State, I’d completed the required semester of student teaching; afterwards, I wanted nothing to do with American classrooms. I’d found the right profession, but everything else was wrong. The books I had to teach from were boring and seemed to have little to do with life. The students were understandably apathetic, and that made the experience that much more pointless to me. The principal was an alcoholic, some of my co-teachers were clearly in the middle of breakdowns, and the rich kids of the school seemed ruined for life even before they reached my class. My overly positive listening-ear-type personality seemed to stick in the teeth of the school’s cancerous maw.
So I wanted to stay out of the schools, and I wanted to help people. But there was something else behind the decision: a need to experience life more fully and more directly. The dead guy urging me on in this direction was not Gandhi, but Henry D. Thoreau. I owe everything to Henry. When I discovered his writings in the fall of 1983, I was a first-year college student pursuing a curriculum that led to a dream job: accountant in one of the Big Eight firms. But that was my father’s dream for me; all I needed was a little nudging from Henry to realize that. With a great deal more nudging over the next few years (mostly from Walden but also from Life without Principle), I moved from would-be-accountant to English major and graduated in June of 1987 ready to begin my own experiment