CRANKING OUT HAPPINESS AT ROBERT'S THINK TANK
California has it's center for advanced study in behavioral sciences, at Stanford. Washington has Robert's Think Tank, at Bellingham. Robert's Think Tank is for the common man. And even better, its brain storming service is free and conducted entirely by mail.
Questions on almost any sensible subject - mailed to PO BOX 2161, Bellingham, WA. 98227 - will bring a personal hand-lettered answer within a couple of weeks (or even sooner) from Robert Ashworth.
Ashworth is a 26-year old 1978 graduate of Western Washington University, where he obtained a degree in Geography.
"Starting a think tank is more exciting than going to grad school," he said. His services are offered free because Ashworth says his material wants are few and because he wants at the outset to establish a track record for credibility.
"We need to learn to live with less matter and more spirit," he said, pointing out that American Indians survived well for generations under this philosophy. "Our economy cranks out lots of material wealth but it does not crank out enough happiness," he said. "Instead of measuring success by the number of tractors produced, we should learn to count the number of hugs a person gets each day. "We need more meditation classes, not more girders of steel; kisses instead of concrete."
Ashworth keeps a roof over his head by working at a Pizza Haven in Bellingham, and he has retained some of the gardening jobs that helped pay for his college education. He will accept donations, though he makes no pitch for money in his correspondence. Actually, he would be happy if his questioners would subscribe to his monthly newsletter, ROBERT'S TELLING TALES, (PAPER NO LONGER PUBLISHED)
"Three fifty," Ashworth said.
Three hundred and fifty dollars?
"Oh no, three dollars and fifty cents a year," he explained, apparently unaware that few newsletters in the field of business and finance sell for less than $100 a year.
More than 80 persons have subscribed from many states and one from Switzerland as a result of tiny ads Ashworth ran in THE FUTURIST and THE NATION.
Each month, questions directed to the think tank are reprinted in the newsletter, and readers' comments are invited. Responses are then mailed to the questioner, who thus has available a variety of viewpoints.
The think tank has been in operation since last June.
It didn't get off to a very auspicious start. The first question was from someone who wanted to know if it was okay to eat the black spots in potatoe chips.
In essence, Ashworth's response was that the black spots are no more unsafe than the chip itself. But a California reader of the newsletter wrote that he had heard that a well-known manufacturer of potatoe chips in California "was concerned about the bad spots so they ran a bunch of tests on mice, but the results were never made public."
Some of the letters to the think tank came from newsletter subscribers. They generally run deeper - to philosophical, economic and social subjects. However, one woman wondered how she could become a surrogate mother - for financial reasons. Another correspondent was curious to learn more about Ashworth himself.
Ashworth, it develops, is single, a native of Pullman, where his father, now retired, was a food scientist at Washington State University. The younger Ashworth is interested in many things - computer technology, space travel and colonization, environmental issues and astronomy. He belongs to a group that promotes "men's liberation," and he uses a bicycle for transportation. His motto is: "idealism works where liberalism fails."
Some of his think tank answers are intuitive, he says, adding that his education has enabled him to consider questions relating to communications, regional economics and social controversies. "I think I have creative insights, but I try to give down-to-earth advice, using the nuts and bolts of science, rather than folklore," he said.
Among people who use the services of the think tank are people engaged in planning, journalism, business and public service and students working on term papers. "They are folks who work with ideas every day, but often come to the point where fresh insights from an outside source could be extreemely valuable."
One of his professors at Western Washington University described Ashworth as "brilliant, but perhaps a bit shy - even introverted." The professor added: "He doesn't seem to be concerned with making a lot of money, but he has sticking power and what we call principles. He demonstrated as a student an ability to think deeply about problems."
However, as Ashworth reminded one young lady, he is not a psychic. Wendy, of Los Angeles, had ask the think tank if she had already met the man she would marry and what her financial future would look like.
"I cannot fortell the future," Robert wrote in reply. "What I do best is offer fresh insights ... creative advice." "In both areas," he went on, "you are the boss. You can decide, to some extent what you wish to do. Your is not only up to fate. The general direction of your life is in your hands, but fate may dictate the specifics to you."
If Ashworth has a flaw as a publisher, or writer, it is an inability to spell well. It is a congenital failing, he explained. "It's something I've really worked on, but to little avail," he said, which is why printed in large letters on his letterhead and on the masthead of his newsletter are the words: "Please pardon my spelling."