Lecture by William Casey King, Executive Director, Yale Center for Analytic Sciences, Yale School of Public Health, “On Ambition.”
Following a reception for the guest speaker, Mr. Casey King, the President of the Academy introduced Mr. Jay Emerson, Academy Vice President for Yale.
Mr. Emerson described the speaker as a friend and neighbor, a bond trader, a Yale PhD, a consultant to various human rights organizations and an accomplished cyclist.
Further, Mr. Emerson outlined five of his significant accomplishments as follows below.
1. Filmmaker (broadcast by PBS, grant winner from the National Endowment for the Humanities)
2. Historian, Yale Ph.D. (the only such Yale University Press trade book publication)
3. Playwright and Director (Yale University Art Gallery, 2011)
4. Executive Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University
5. Executive Director of the Yale Center for Analytical Sciences
Mr. Emerson then introduced Mr. King and promised that his talk to the Academy would focus on “Ambition”
Mr. King described his talk on Ambition as being a “History from Vice to Virtue.”
From rags to riches, log house to White House, enslaved to liberator, ghetto to CEO, ambition drives the American dream. Yet for centuries, ambition was considered a dangerous vice, described as everything from a “canker on the soul” to the antithesis of Christ. In this talk, Yale’s Casey King recounted the strange history of ambition: its trajectory from vice to problematic American virtue.
He began by describing Ben Franklin as embodying ambition: “Early to bed, early to rise makes one healthy, wealthy and wise.”
He continued by giving three definitions of ambition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
1. A particular goal or aim: something that a person hopes to do or achieve
2. A desire to be successful, powerful, or famous
3. A desire to do things and be active
Mr. King then turned the Geneva Bible of the 17th and 18th Centuries particularly as relevant to the story of Adam and Eve and their ambition acting against God.
He turned to the 1550’s where ambition often meant degradation of others. He also referred to the anatomy of ambition at the time of English colonization with reference to Robert Burton.
He concluded his talk by giving “Five Takeaways on Ambition.”
1. Burn your boats (full compassion)
2. If you got it, don’t flaunt it.
3. One man’s ambition becomes a woman’s bitchiness according to Abbey Kelly the great fighter against racial and gender discrimination.
4. Ambition is often realized at another’s expense
5. Ambition does not need to involve degradation of others. Ambition fueled by compassion, wisdom, and integrity is a powerful force for good.
Mr. King’s talk evoked significant discussion from the audience. One of the major concerns expressed focused on current student’s attitudes and the lack of ambition.Mr. King concluded his talked by saying that his personal hope is that ambition will always be a virtue and not a vice.
Minutes submitted by Monica Aspianto, Recording Secretary