Mimetic Monday: January 4, 2021

Dear Readers,

Here is this week’s Mimetic Monday—a short, weekly note about things worth imitating. If you’re a subscriber to my previous emails and wondering where I’ve been, well: writing this book! It’s about why we come to want the things that we want, and why the formation of desire is the least understood yet most important part of any business, any relationship, any undertaking—and, frankly, any life. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the most rewarding. I’m excited to share more with you.

Now that I’m back, I’ve decided to make this blog a once/week, 3-bullet-point summary of things that I think may benefit you as you head into the new week. I hope you’ll stick around with me.

Okay, now let’s get to it.

It’s the first Monday in 2021, and there are reasons for hope. There always are. Here are a few that stand out this week:

  • What I’m reading. The Idiot is a wonderful novel by one of René Girard’s former students, Dostoevsky scholar Elif Batuman (she took the title from one of his books). After struggling for more than 10 years to write a novel about her formative undergraduate years, she stopped trying to recreate the experience in the abstract and went back to the journal she kept in college while she was living through it. It became the raw material around which she was finally able to produce a spell-binding book. There’s a lesson here: we can and should imitate the masters and sometimes even draw inspiration from our former selves. We’re often too busy trying to look forward that we forget to look back.
  • Who is inspiring me. Teachers. Over the past ten months, ever since we entered into the belly of the pandemic, I have seen countless acts of selfless giving on the part of K-12 teachers here in Washington, DC and beyond—teachers truly pouring themselves out for their students. I’m an educator at the university level, where I do not have to deal with the complexities of virus-dodging in primary and secondary education. I was particularly inspired by this outpouring of support for a high school teacher by her students.
  • What I’m struggling with. The pandemic has brought to light the confusion associated with not having a hierarchy of values—a world in which all values are treated as equally important, or where it’s not clear what is foundational and what is not. Many people have been forced to make difficult decisions about when and how to visit their loved ones. For whom and for what is it right and just to put safety at risk? In a culture without a hierarchy of values, the most mimetic value at any given moment wins out. I’m wrestling with how I can put better structures into place in my own life (and in my family) to innoculate myself a little bit more from partisan politics, ephemeral trends and bubbles, and mimetic values that flare up like a flash in the pan. One way I’ve tried to do that is by building a deep bookshelf.

Until next week,



“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
—Antoine de Saint—Exupery


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