Hello from the AC of a coffee shop,
It is going to be above 90 again today and in spite of semester-low humidity, it is still quite warm. This is not a complaint because other places are worse (Europe for instance)..I have been on the Harley more than in the big, which improves my mood, but I cannot do everything on the Harley, and fortunately, the bug handles more than I expected when I bought it. As has become a habitual meeting, I met at Burger King with some other gentlemen this morning. It is quite the group, a number Vietnam veterans (all about a decade older than I am). And I might be the only Democrat in the group. You might ask why would I listen to them every day, which is a fair question, but it is helpful to hear both the what and why they believe as they do. I appreciate each of them for a different reason. I do, however listen to our President being referred to in often one-syllable words, and I am quite sure they did not appreciate our former President being referred to in similar language, which I did not do. And over the weekend I had some people for dinner and the husband of the couple noted he voted for the former-President twice. He then asked if I thought I was better off than four years ago, in a Reagan-esque manner. As I did not want to put a damper on all conversation I responded in a somewhat benign fashion, but I did not really delve into the complexity of the question. But all of that leads me to the real question, which is implied in the title. However, I asked this group, many veterans as I am but most a decade or so older, if they believed they had achieved the American Dream? The answers were informative, but their struggle to define what they achieved (or hadn’t as we watch our 401Ks take a beating) was also instructional.
I wish I might have sat with my father and the group of guys he spent every morning with up at Harvey’s. It would have been interesting to see if they had similar discussions. My father was a Roosevelt New Dealer, a consummate Union person, and a straight-talker; he was a hard worker, a believer in earning-what-you-get, and a person who often said, “There are no free lunches.” And he meant it. What I know is my father had a work ethic that informed how he went about his vocation on a daily basis. As importantly, his vocation was his life. What does that mean? First, one must define and understand vocation. It is more than the job or occupation one performs. It is a combination of what they do, how they do it, and, most significantly, why they do it. It is the why that makes it a vocation. Additionally if the why carries across from their professional to personal life, I assert that life itself is a vocation. I believe my father epitomized this reality. Later this year, it will be a quarter of a century since he passed. So much life has occurred since that time. In fact, I have spent 1/3, plus a few years of my life without his physical presence, but he remains a profound influence.
Yet, I digress. While there are numerous things that cause me concern, there are two particular elements of our present world which cause me grave concern. The first seems to be the propensity of those who hold the majority of the wealth to feel so little remorse or demonstrate any sustained concern for where our world seems to be headed (e.g. world health, distribution of resources, or climate issues). And second, and I am not sure if this is a consequence or a pre-requisite cause, it the general lack of civility or belief that decorum matters. To return to the title: with either point one is compelled to question – how did we get here? When considering the first point, it is simple of matter of short-sightedness, or is it more sinister and some innate selfishness that reveals really who we are in our brokenness? The answer to that question is more likely a book, and no singular blog entry. However, the second element of the title is more ominous, more disconcerting.
Certainly, the world (and it is perhaps most evidenced here in this country) seems to be divided between those who are sounding the alarm calling for significant changes across the board, and I will agree, those individuals fall into a more progressive camp. Then there is the other side that believes it is all hype, a chicken-little-sky-is-falling, crock to cover their socialistic agenda. As importantly, there are numerous somewhere in-between, yes, the silent majority, as once coined. What is important is the consequence of the extremes and the in-betweens. The extremes point fingers, the in-betweens generally do not speak out, and nothing (or very little) changes. And I do believe we are running out of time. Yet, this returns us to our initial question: how did we get to the point that debate, discussion, and solution fell by the wayside? Returning to my father, his character, his values, and his willingness to speak his mind, while still listening (at least I believe he still listened) were a hallmark of his generation, the generation written about by Tom Brokaw. Growing up, I looked at Senators, Representatives, and the President as someone to admire. It pains me to say that is no longer the case. And note I made no mention of party. It is with a perplexing, but serious sense of disillusionment, I believe a great majority of our federally elected or appointed people are more worried about re-election versus representing and governing “for the people.” Obstructionism has replaced governing.
I think about my students, some graduated a decade, or maybe even two ago. I met with one this past week, who was one of my students my first year at Bloom. Now living in Idaho and a mother of three, she is a teacher. She grew up in Central Pennsylvania in a small town. Probably more conservative than I in her background, her statements seemed more left than I expected her to be. How did that happen? It was probably a combination of things. What I thought most telling was her willingness to question most everything, but I should not be surprised. She has always been a questioner. I think of students who have also come from a more left-leaning background, or even a more socially dependent situation l who have become more conservative in their own actions and views. How do those metamorphic progressions occur? I think the answer is quite easy. They are exposed to new things and they are encouraged to question and think.
Enlisting into the Marine Corps as a 17 year old certainly caused some life-long changes in me. They are still a significant element of who I am. As importantly, meeting a new pastor and his family directly after my discharge was life-altering. Spending significant time with a cousin before going to Dana had consequence. And yet, it was Dana, Humanities, and Parnassus where I learned how to think, analyze, and integrate that gave me the willingness to open my mind to leaning and listening. I am quite sure I had minimal, if any, comprehension the questions posed by all those Danish named (and a few non-Danes) professors would do to change my life. Those examples inform my own teaching to this day. When my students ask how I came up with such a question or they tell me they do not even want to begin to ponder where the question might take them I know something good is happening. I am a firm believer that my main task is to teach students how to think, not what to think. It is the ability to think, ponder, and analyze the situation and consequences (both short and long term) that seem integral to democracy surviving. What happens next if we fail to have civil debate? Believing that disagreement is wrong is a way to quash democracy itself. One of the most significant things I learned at Dana was the importance of understanding the synthesis of all the elements of our world and how they created the foundation of citizenship. As one of my current colleagues argues so passionately is the importance of the liberal arts, of the humanities. She is correct; the education we received at Dana, grounded in the three-semester humanity’s sequence, prepared me to be a citizen, one who believes that globalization is world citizenship.
Part of that citizenship began with my study abroad with Dr. John W. – it was 40 years ago that occurred and I made my first pilgrimage to Denmark. The picture above is my Danish exchange student and his family who have returned to visit. They have been delightful in more ways than I can count. Another irony is Anton’s mother was a high school exchange student in Iowa decades ago with a Dana classmate, who married a floor mate. What are the chances? It is important to me for more reasons than the irony. It is an amazing example of the connections we have as a human race. What I do in Bloomsburg has consequence for someone is from Humlebaek, Denmark, and they know of someone who lives in Georgia, but who grew up in Iowa. What can we do to show this matters? Make choices that have knowledge and appreciation of the larger responsibility we all have for our world. Hard to believe we are into August this week, the summer is fleeting. This video is a reminder of our globalism.
Thank you as always for reading