Harvard's third most popular class is a class called "Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory" taught by Chinese history professor Michael Puett. Each semester he begins the class with a bold proclamation: "If you take the ideas in these texts seriously, they will change your life."
Here, writing with journalist and Harvard graduate Christine Gross-Loh, Puett consolidates the counter-intuitive yet simple premise that the world is not ordered and outside of human influence, but actively evolving within the context and complexity of human life.
Through the ideas of Confucius, the Dao de jing, Mencius, and other classic Chinese thinkers and texts, Puett enthusiastically challenges readers to reimagine how to live a good life and consider philosophies that change patterns of thinking "from the ground up in unpredictable, unimaginable ways."
Taking from Confucius the lesson that a path toward goodness requires concentration on daily rituals and transformation through practice, Puett explores examples of how purposeful behavior can lead to new avenues of thinking and living. Playing hide-and-seek with a child can be viewed as a ritual of authority, reversing power roles in order to reconfigure our understanding of control. The value of non-action realized through the parable of a tiny sapling surviving a raging storm while the large oak is felled.
Possibly the reason the class caught on so well at Harvard is due to the self-effacing foundation of the philosophy which strikes to the core of Western values by questioning the benefit of ambition, self-discovery, and clearly defined goals. In fact, many of the philosophical texts described in the book were developed "in opposition to the idea of living according to any overarching system."
If you're looking to get out of a rut, or rise above the doom and gloom of our present global situation, Puett's channeled knowledge from the Chinese masters will be a wake-up call. We sometimes forget that our problems are as old as civilization, and maybe the answers have always been hidden in plain sight.