"Dak Ackerthefifth and the Ethics Of Heroism" by Joshua S Joseph

“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – The Dark Knight

That quote from filmmaker Christopher Nolan resonated with me as I read this complex and extremely satisfying novel from Joshua S Joseph. The protagonist in this, a young Indian man with the unique name of Dak Ackerthefifth — a name blamed on the same slip of the entry pen used on Ellis Island while in-taking droves of new American citizens to our country.

DAK ACKERTHEFIFTH AND THE ETHICS OF HEROISM is more of a spiritual journey than a work of fiction and the reader is privileged to go along for the ride. Throughout Dak’s life he seeks to understand the precept of what it means to be a hero. We understand that for one to be a hero you must pick a side — hero or villain — but we also learn that life is not that black and white and often times it is not clear as to which side you are on. The story begins with the death of his parents, Richard and Rudy. Our narrator indicates that the death of parents is the way every good hero story starts — but be mindful, this is no Disney tale.

Richard Ackerthefifth was a ballpoint pen magnate who allegedly died during a business trip to the Congo — or so Dak’s mother told him. Rudy was left to raise 8-year-old Dak and his younger sister, Emily. Regrettably, or in keeping with the hero plan, Rudy passes away when Dak is 14. Her death is blamed solely on Crazy Uncle Ji. He was not an actual ‘Uncle’ but was given that honorific title by their mother. Shortly after Rudy was diagnosed with cancer, Crazy Uncle Ji gave her a cocktail of various supplements that initially helped her but then quickly pushed her into a physical nosedive that she never recovered from.

Now, young Dak is sent to Boarding School while Emily is placed into foster care. It is while attending the Ellsworth School that Dak had his first taste of heroism. Initially, Dak thought this came from the altercation he got into with another student over the death of one of their classmates. Actually, his heroic act took place on a class ski trip. A smaller classmate, Pard, was partnered with Dak on the trip and he slipped from the chairlift while it was climbing up the mountain. Dak grabbed Pard and held on until it was safe to let go, essentially saving Pard’s life.

The next chapter in Dak’s journey involved his moving in with his Aunt Rhoda once he was ‘done’ with Boarding School. She lived in Manhattan, which ended up being the ideal testing ground for Dak’s theories of heroism. The trouble was that Aunt Rhoda was a ‘hideous human being’ who was taking care of Dak more for the benefits she received from the Foundation his father had left behind than out of any sense of familial responsibility. At one point, his sister Emily comes to stay for a short visit. Emily implores her brother not to let her be taken back to foster care again, an experience that has included a number of different families each ending with her being sent back into the system. Unfortunately, Dak is not old enough yet to make such a decision and his Aunt Rhoda explains that foster care is what Emily needs as she suffers from various mental issues that require constant supervision.

As Dak is experiencing the world as a young man he continues to question everything and put all his experiences through various philosophical and ethical filters. He ponders on the concept of Interaction versus Isolation. The philosopher John Paul Sartre stated ‘Hell is other people’. To feel Sartre’s Hell, one must feel isolation while being amongst other people and not feeling saved by any interaction with your fellow man. Dak gets his best opportunity to truly interact with human nature when he takes on his first job. He is hired to do odds and ends at a management office that handled various tenant buildings around the NYC area. His boss was a Jew, Mr. Frank, a fact that allowed Dak to further explore the differences between his own Roman Catholic upbringing and other religious precepts.

Eventually, Dak is utilized by Mr. Frank because he is not one of the ‘Jewish tribe’ to collect back rent from various tenants who are in arrears. It is here where he meets Esther, a young woman who play a pivotal role in Dak’s journey. In his initial meeting, where he is attempting to collect overdue rent, Esther gives Dak quite an earful. She was the tenant from hell and a professional problem for him to solve. Subsequent visits find Esther warming towards the unassuming Dak and she becomes a font of good stories and advice. For instance, she tells Dak how fortunate it is that both his parents died when he was young as he never had to experience taking care of them when they were older and physically/mentally wasting away. It is also with Esther that Dak has his first sexual experience.

Dak focuses on the concept of approval and recognizing that, as a physical being not in isolation, we are ever seeking out the approval of ourselves from other people. This leads him to his next serious interaction with another tenant named Lissa. He will have a physical relationship with her and also spend some time living with her as well. Dak looked at his time living with Lissa as vacation and understood that even the most satisfying vacations had to eventually end. On the home front, Emily had now graduated from foster care and is taken in by Aunt Rhoda. The three of them are all at a point where they abhor the presence of one another and bounce around the home like solitary electrons failing to make contact with each other.

One day, Dak finds Aunt Rhoda unconscious on the floor of their apartment — a situation that Emily had not even noticed. He rides in the ambulance with her to the hospital. Even though everything is tried to save her, Aunt Rhoda eventually succumbs to her malady and passes away. While in the hospital, Dak ponders that idea that real heroes are practitioners of medicine. However, he cannot truly buy into this idea as so many of those in the medical field do not actually care about the people they are treating. It is not long after Rhoda’s passing that a face from the past returns, Uncle Ji. Ji now is able to speak to Dak, adult to adult, and explains that the facts behind each of his parents’ deaths were not what Dak had been led to believe. He also provides Dak with some information, a ‘gift’ as he refers to it, that he can use as political leverage against his employer, Mr. Frank. Unfortunately, that gift backfires and Dak is fired from the only job he ever had.

Dak rebounds into his next serious relationship, this time with Esther’s sister, Dina. Now unemployed, Dak moves in with Dina and it is there where he meets with my favorite character in the novel, Abe. Abe is Dina’s brother and he is an extraordinary thinker and debater of concepts, both religious and otherwise. His first interaction with Dak begins with a diatribe on the Jewish and Palestinian conflict and how that arose. Abe likes to hear himself talk and he also likes someone who will question and challenge him, which Dak provides for him. If you have ever seen the Richard Linklater film, Waking Life, in which pairs of characters converse philosophically with each other on a myriad of subjects, you will understand my feelings about the scenes between Dak and Abe. There are a few chapters involving the two of them together and it provides the best dialogue in the novel.

At one point in a Sushi restaurant, Dak, Dina, Abe and his lover Katie are chatting — or, more to the point, listening to Abe speak — when Dina finally calls him out for his cynical banter. She shares with Dak a quote from Tom Robbins that makes him think: ‘We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love’. On another occasion, Abe asks Dak how he would feel if he were able to shut society down. Unhook the world from their wireless devices and disconnect everyone from everything they utilize to get them through their lives. Dak indicates that this would finally make him a hero. It is at this point, towards the end of the story, where Abe provides Dak with just such an opportunity and it opens everything up all at once for Dak, finally providing him with answers he has spent his life searching for.

DAK ACKERTHEFIFTH AND THE ETHICS OF HEROISM was both an exhilarating and exhausting read as it provides so many various concepts that require the reader to disengage from our current culture and seek to find true meaning in our lives. It is a participatory novel requiring the reader to think and dive in deep along with our ‘hero’. Dak is the ideal figure to go on this journey and I was sorry for that ride to come to an end. I give much credit to author Joshua S Joseph, who refers to himself as an author, philosopher, and consumer of shadows. He is definitely someone that would be interesting to chat with.

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Inspiration Ethics – The Value of Authenticity

AuthenticNoun; undisputed credibility; the quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine; worthy of trust, reliance or belief.

Ever heard these phrases? They all refer to authenticity.

  • Walk the talk.
  • Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
  • Be real.
  • Act on the courage of your convictions.

What is authenticity? When we think, say, feel and act in complete alignment. In other words, there is no difference between our beliefs and what we say. Our habits of thought match our habits of action. There is no difference between how we feel and what we do, between what we want and who we are. It means we’re whole, undivided, complete.

“…the first step toward becoming authentic is to be courageous. If we don’t have courage, we cannot be real. And being real, in turn, requires us to be brave enough to reveal, own, and often share our truth, our fears, our emotions, and our vulnerabilities. This is how we become authentic.” (Lance Secretan, “One: The Art and Practice of Conscious Leadership,” 2006, p. 81)

We often use the word “integrity” to describe the result of authenticity. The most common meaning of integrity is “steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.” But integrity also means “the state of being unimpaired; soundness,” and “the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness”. (The American Heritage Dictionary) Authenticity leads us to our own ethical code; authenticity leads to integrity.

When you judge an object to be authentic, you determine it to be exactly what it claims to be. The same is true for people. For example, everyone has a relative who is “a little eccentric” yet very lovable. How is that? Chances are that wacky relative is so genuine you cannot help but appreciate him or her. What you see is what you get, and you love what you get from them (even if it’s a little weird!).

We need to be authentic because we love how authentic people touch our hearts and inspire us. “Authentic leaders have an air of transparency about them. And followers want conscious leaders who are clear about what they stand for, what their values are, and who live these values consistently. (Secretan, op. cit. p. 85)

Reflections to inspire personal growth in Authenticity (with your learning partner)

How would your life be different if you were more authentic? What can you do daily to increase your trustworthiness and integrity? What is your personal code of ethics; what must you change to demonstrate them more fully? Find an accountability partner or hire a coach to help to help you develop your authenticity and take these actions:

  • Describe one of the most Authentic moments in your life, when you were at your personal, authentic best.
  • Describe a current situation in your life that, in your heart, you could apply the same level of Courage and Authenticity as you did in your example above.
  • Make plans to touch base with your learning partner in the next month about how you each are growing in Authenticity. Hold each other to be accountable.

Is Marketing Ethics an Oxymoron?

To many people the answer to this question would be a resounding “YES”. Are marketers really concerned with the welfare of their customers, or are they more concerned about the ‘bottom line’ of the organization they represent? I read of one example of an official in the Swedish office of Coca-Cola who says her goal is to get people to drink Coke for breakfast instead of having orange juice. Is that in the best interest of the consumer?

A change is coming, and has already started, in how consumers and organizations must view the marketing profession; a more ‘holistic’ approach towards consumers is required. In that regards companies must consider all aspects of their relationship with the consumer, not just their own goals.

Many may ask “is there a place for ethics in marketing?” In discussing concerns that consumers and advocacy groups have with the apparent lack of concern for consumers’ well being, we must address the challenges that marketers have to ‘self regulate’ and become more socially responsible. This really is no different than what would be expected of each of us: In an organized society it is the responsibility of all to behave ethically. One concern within the marketing industry is that if marketers do not change their ways, and become more socially responsible, they will become subject to more government controls.

The ethical relationship between marketing and the consumer is a key to the success of organizations. Consumers expect to be treated fairly and with respect. Consumers expect that the service they receive from organizations will be reliable, responsive, trustworthy, understanding, and that they are really receiving something of value. They do not want ‘lip service’, unrealistic promises, or misleading offerings. Consumers do not want to be sold products that are inherently bad for them. The ethical implications for marketers are great in meeting these expectations. As more people join the marketing field, especially in the increasingly popular ‘information marketing’ arena, these issues will, and should be, some of the first issues that need addressed.

A new foundation for marketing and the ethical implications of marketers targeting specific groups or segments of consumers is needed. Companies have targeted specific segments of consumers that they feel will provide them with the greatest returns, sometimes to the exclusions of others. Some consumers feel that marketers do not care at all about what happens to them once they purchase a product and that this caveat emptor, or ‘let the buyer beware’ theory of marketing is, and must, rapidly be dismissed.

Markets must become more concerned with the needs and wants of the consumer, but they must still keep in mind the overall goal of the company. This unfortunately creates a conflict between the priorities of the marketer, the needs and wants of the consumer and the goals of the organization (Profits), and is the basis for much of the confusion and concerns about ethical marketing practices. To overcome the challenges that this presents organizations, and to some extent consumers, all involved must take a more holistic, or all encompassing view of the marketing process. Ethical decision making for businesses will require them to take an “enlightened self interest” approach to serving the consumer, to insure that there marketing practices are ethically sound.

Consumers also must bear some responsibility to become more self aware and informed about the products they purchase and use. For those with the ability to make rational choices, consumers must take actions and research the products they buy; they must develop an awareness of their needs, as opposed to their wants, and make appropriate decisions concerning the directions their consumptions take them. If consumers expect organizations to treat them with respect, and provide a level of service consistent with their needs, they must do their part.

Service is really the art of offering a consumer more than just the product they are purchasing. Part of that offering is to provide consumers with the assurance that what you are marketing to them is based on ethically sound principles: Do organizations treat their customers with respect? Are they honest and forthright in their communications with consumers?

As awareness of consumer rights increases, and advocacy groups increase pressure on organizations and governments, the priority that organizations must place on the ethical implications of their marketing programs will only increase. In the service industry the relationship between the consumer and the service provider is all that matters. If the consumer perceives that they are being treated unethically they will go elsewhere. But, not only will they leave, they will take with them as many others as they can. The risk that organizations face by treating their customers/clients unethically is too great to let this happen.