The Difference Between Being Important and Thinking You Are

Hello from a bit of an unpredicted appointment,

Good Monday morning from Geisinger-Danville. What began as a follow up appointment has turned into much more. I am continually amazed by the complexity of the human body, but even more so by how many of those intricacies we take for granted. I have learned a great deal about the gastrointestinal system, but lately I have been immersed in how our hearing and sense of balance is interconnected. Shortly after arriving in Bloomsburg, it was recommended that I get tubes placed in my ears. To shorten a story, I underwent this procedure three times in about four years with success as long as the tubes would stay in, but my body was not inclined to allow these small foreign bodies to stay for long periods of time. Now, because of the scar tissue, I have retracted tympanic membranes (ear drums). The pressure inside and outside the ear is not equalized and as such, it both affects my hearing (not significantly enough to hearing aids or any such thing) and seems to make me prone to recurrent ear infections. To the question is now what might be the best path forward. More time with Geisinger it seems.

It seems we too often seem to err on one side or the other. Either we believe we are susceptible to everything, falling into a degree of hypochondria or we believe we are invincible, and we choose to listen to no one believing we can overcome everything, anything, anywhere, anytime. I have been around both kinds of people and as is usually the case, either extreme is problematic. The extremes have most certainly found some prominence during this year or the pandemic. And that is understandable for a multitude of reasons. Health and a person’s sense of well-being is profoundly personal, and as such there is no recipe card in how one should approach it. For those who have been blessed with very few health issues, when something confronts them for the first time (serious or not), it can throw them for the proverbial loop. It can do the same for those around them. I remember the summer between my junior and senior year in high school when my father suffered a heart attack. Long before the days of angioplasty, stents, or by-pass, he was initially bedridden and then off work for 3-4 months if I remember correctly. Seeing him pale and mostly unresponsive those first few days scarred me, and scared me beyond words. On the other hand, he approached the follow up to his health concern like anything else in his life: matter of fact, headon, and with careful thought and seriousness. One of the most important things my father taught be was to be fair and treat people with respect. His understanding of that could be summed up in one simple phrase: do not ask anyone to do anything you would not do yourself. Or, you are never too good to do any job you expect another person to do. This has stuck with me.

When I managed a restaurant while in graduate school, one night our 16 year old dishwasher called in sick. I made the decision that I would wash dishes that night. It sort of reminded me of being back in my grandmother’s bakery, something I addressed in my last post. When one of the servers came back and saw me washing dishes, she asked why I would do such a thing. I responded that if I did not wash dishes she would soon not be serving food. She asked why I did not make someone else do it, and I noted that I could have done that, but then someone would have been washing dishes for about $2.27/hour and not making any tips. I believed that was unfair and so I decided it was better if I washed dishes myself. Someone told me some time later that seeing me wash dishes that night made an impression upon them. I did it because it was what my father would have expected of me, not because I hoped to impress someone. It is much like now. About eight years ago, I had surgery (yet again). It ended up that I was required to take FLMA that semester. When I went in to sign the paperwork to qualify for this benefit, the HR person thanked me for coming in and being so polite. At the time I came in I was in significant pain and I was incredibly weak. And yet, I remember telling her that I was only doing what they asked me to do. It seemed logical to me. She then noted that another professor refused to come in to manage the same paperwork, but argued because they were tenured, they did not have to do that. I was dumbfounded. There are so many people, who work diligently each day to make my life easier. To treat them with anything less than gratefulness is absurd to me.

First and foremost, we are all humans, single, solitary individuals who have similar entries into the world. Perhaps Caesarean than natural birth, perhaps with a loving, supporting family or a single parent with little support, perhaps with a nursery already set up and everything staged for our arrival home, or perhaps with very little in terms of a long-term plan or a clear-sense of what is needed to manage a new baby in the home. For what it is worth, I think I was probably more of the later than the former. I doubt, there was anything my barely 16 year old mother had in place for a 17 ounce preemie in 1955. She was in Texas, her homestate, but not in her hometown. The point is this: I was completely dependent on what she and others around her did to keep me sustained. First, I spent some extra time in the hospital because I did not weigh anything close to 5 pounds. I am pretty sure there was no health insurance, and I am not sure if my father was already in trouble or running to stay ahead of whatever was coming. In some ways, I might have been the least of these at that point in life. At least size-wise that was certainly the case. Regardless her readiness to be a mother, I am pretty sure she loved me the best she could. Only 14 months later, she was become a mother to a second person, my younger sister, Kristina, but she was born in Long Beach, CA instead of Corpus Christi, TX. That is some significant real-estate in terms of a change of venue. By the time a third child would be born, it seems my mother had lost custody of the two of us and was back in Texas with a husband in a state penitentiary and trying to figure out her life as a 19 year old mother of three, but with only one in her possession. From what I understand, she decided to give the second sister I call a sibling to someone in the Air Force in a sort of “Here, what a baby?” manner. To this day, I have no idea where that second sister is or if she is aware of her being sort of foisted on someone. In fact, I am not even sure how I would go about finding her.

What makes a person important? Not necessarily in a big picture, but as an individual. Each of us has value and I believe that is an intrinsic thing. What is our inherent value as a human being? Any sort of search of this usually pushes us into an economic conversation or for instance, the intrinsic value of some asset or stock, but I am more interested in the philosophical idea of intrinsic or extrinsic. Certainly, we could return to Plato and his discussion about pleasure and pain, but I am not sure that is where I want to go. Intrinsic value does, for me, have a moral character to it. It means that as moral individuals (which I believe all people are – I did not say they act morally, but rather they have moral value) every individual has through its own existential foundation inherent value. I also realize this could go down a number of rabbit holes, but bear with me. We place value on others because of a number of things that have nothing to do with their intrinsic value, but too often their extrinsic value. Again, a lot can be said about this, but I will only go as far as to say that extrinsic cannot even matter if there is no intrinsic value to begin with. Allow me to put it another way: intrinsic value is (for me) an external thing; extrinsic is temporal and therefore temporary. It also set up the struggle that is inherent in the title of this blog post.

It is easy for us to fall into the trap of believing we have value that is beyond our own reality. What if this were to happen? What if I were no longer in a specific place or position? What if I left or moved on? I have had to face the reality of that truth more than once in my life. Whether it was when I was placed in a new home, left a job, moved to a new place, or stopped being married, the world did not stop. My mother lived the rest of her life without me in it. The English and Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout did not miss me after I left (in fact some would say my leaving was a benefit). I dare say neither ex-wife (there are two) probably wishes they were still married to me and they might even go as far as to say their life is better without me. I know that sounds a bit harsh, and maybe even a bit tough on my own self, but I want to be honest or realistic about this.

Presently, the world seems to have an overabundance of people who believe they are more important than they are, and this is not just in our divisive political arena. Too often we believe ourselves indispensable. There is not such person; there is no such possibility. I know that after my brother or my grandmother died (within about 7 months of each other), I found it difficult to move forward, and I floundered, but I did manage. It took the help of others, but it happened. It was a time I struggled to find my intrinsic value you if you will. It was a time when I believed I had little to offer. There have been other times like that in my life too, but somehow, there is the inherent goodness of the other who has reached out and made my life meaningful. Who are those people that are your go-to people that remind you of your intrinsic value? What do they do to help you see that which seems uncertain in your circumstance? In this time of uncertainty, I believe it is necessary for us to do two things (yes, Ruth I said two things; imagine that): first, you must believe in the goodness of your ownself (and if you are struggling to do so, find someone to help you); second, you must believe in the inherent intrinsic value of the other. They are neither more nor less important, but they are important. It is then I believe we move beyond the divisiveness of our present world. It is then I believe we find a world that moves toward justice, equity, and goodness. One of the things I have noted for my students is the importance of seeing how things work together. The importance of synthesis. I believe this group found its voice both because of its incredible talent, but also because Glee pushed the importance of music and the arts back to the fore. This is their version of the unbelievably important John Lennon tune.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

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