What does a nerdy, goofy actor from the sit-com The Office have to tell us about ethics? The main point of the book has to do with developing an authentic relationship with oneself—that is, learning how to live in one’s own skin.
It wasn’t easy for Rainn Wilson, whose parents divorced early and he wound up in a variety of difficult situations, such as getting the s*** kicked out of him while living in the slums of New York. The comedic actor also played straight roles, such as Hamlet, but admits he was never very good at it. He kept trying too hard to be what he thought others wanted him to be.
That is the essence of the ethical issue: if you are a transactionalist, as most neoclassical economists think people are, one “acts” in a way that is designed to produce the highest desired outcome. But “acting” in that way can be profoundly phony, and will ultimately be unsuccessful.
Only when one lets go of thinking—and concentrates on being—can one succeed in the world of acting—and other facets of life. But to “be” means to be true to one’s real inner being, because only then can it be an effortless flow.
Wilson’s story of how he became a TV and film star after numerous false starts and missteps is interesting as a case study in virtue ethics. More than that, it offers glimpses into the kinds of questions everyone should ask to live a life fully. One exercise he describes is having people write down the 5 things that they “know for sure—really for sure.” It’s a revelation, and my own list starts with “I am alive” followed by “I will die.”
Wilson was raised in the Baha'i Faith, which believes that all great religions are one. He left as a Bohemian rebel and became an atheist, then an agnostic, before returning to the faith as an adult.
Wilson went on to help create SoulPancake, a whimsical website and media production company interested in pursuing uplifting spiritual, psychological, and philosophical interests. It is a for-profit company promoting the virtues of resilience and courage, exemplified by the wildly popular short Youtube video, "Kid President".
Below are the break are some of my favorite quotes from the book.