Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thinking Before I Speak. Novel. I Know.

Remember the good old days of journaling? Okay, so some of you are awesome and you STILL journal, but I gave it up for blogging. (Not to be confused with Lent.) My journals are filled with some good stuff, but it is mostly incoherent rambling. I used my journal to sort out thinking that I either couldn't share with others or still wasn't sure of myself. Unfortunately, in that medium, I seldom got back around to clarifying my thoughts when solutions presented themselves. My entries from my teen years, in particular, make it plain that I was the most depressed person who ever lived. I guess I only wrote on the hard days.

Blogging has been different. When I write longer pieces here, I often will take some days to organize my thoughts about something I have seen or experienced, and then attempt to present those thoughts in a cohesive essay. Generally, what you see is the result of something I have spent time puzzling through and on which I have formed an opinion.

And then I write a piece like 'Cause I'm a Woman, filled with opinions that were probably not very well-considered before just throwing them up there. Thirteen articulate opinions were elucidated in a blog post that became a very important conversation. Your perspective-laden comments, in conjunction with a letter-only friend sending me a copy of an editorial response to a Republican Senator's complaint about "degrees to nowhere," has given me much to think about in the last couple of weeks. My thinking is now clarified, and unlike my journaling of old, I am going to take the time to complete my thoughts. (And in an unrelated note: I hyphenated three phrases in this last paragraph. It is probably because my vocabulary isn't large enough to supply better words!)

I do stand by some opinions, but others have been softened. Caitlin made an excellent point about motherhood being "life-altering." And in the case of (at least) Caitlin and Karin, motherhood has come with unexpected challenges that have erased the possibility of ever having an "empty nest." For them, motherhood is not a detour from another life (the way I too often view it), it is the only path. Each of these women are brilliant and might have done anything with their years on earth . . . indeed each might have had a very different dreams once upon a time. Instead, each has been blessed with a sweet little daughter who will never come to a place she doesn't need her mother. The conversation I attempted to initiate with my talk of paychecks and giving back to society is practically an insult to the remarkable work these two lovely women and countless others like them do every day.

A woman embarking on the medical school trajectory doesn't know how she will react to motherhood until it happens. I have three close friends from my growing up years who became doctors. An optometrist, dentist and dermatologist. They have four, three and two kids respectively. They have found ways to balance work and family through a variety of methods. They have made sacrifices that I wasn't/wouldn't be willing to make. The point, however, is that those sacrifices are THEIRS. It doesn't matter what I think of it, nor is it my business to sit in judgment of their choices. It is funny how I keep forgetting that.

As for the public college thing . . . it seems I'm not the only one having this debate. As the school accountability movement continues to gain momentum, many eager politicians have suggested that higher universities seeking accreditation and/or public funding should have to prove that their graduates are working. After all, many go to college with the expectation that there will be employment opportunities on the other side. While I think my statements in the earlier post (basically amounting to the idea that without the intent to work then there was no point in attending college) were off-base, I don't think it is unreasonable to ask yourself or your children what the purposes are for attending college (their might be many, not all of which are academic), which college or university is the best value for meeting those purposes, and how that education is to be paid for in the short and long term. Women especially need to be candid with themselves about "plan A" and "plan B" insofar as those terms are at all descriptive.

There was quote in my planner yesterday that read, "A liberal arts education is supposed to provide you with a value system, a standard, a set of ideas, not a job." I really like that quote, and I think I agree. Some things are inherently valuable, even if they don't turn into some arbitrary definition of "net-worth." The problem is that the liberal arts education still comes with a price tag, even if you can't easily measure its value or gain a return on it. If your dreams aren't tempered with a degree of practicality, then they are unachievable wishes or can eventually turn into nightmares.

As to the idea of shared public resources--my own mode of expression may have been over the top, but I think there are legitimate concerns to be spoken of here. In an era of fiscally (and morally) bankrupt government, it is necessary to ask hard questions about what exactly the government's responsibilities are. And what is the cost of that responsibility? To what degree is education an investment? A public service? How do we measure success in public education at every level?

I've also come to a deep realization the last few weeks that much of our self-reliance is an illusion. Oh, we might pay our own bills and have our food saved up for a year and store hundreds of gallons of water under the bunkbeds . . . . but our ability to truly live on our own is very limited. I listened to an interview with man named Russel Fox. He is a professor of political science at a university somewhere in Midwest. He is also LDS. He subscribes to a political philosophy called Communitarianism, which I find totally fascinating. The philosophy is that classic liberalism (i.e. individual freedom supersedes everything) is mostly impossible to achieve and ultimately leads to a broken and uncivil society. If individuals don't agree to give up some freedoms in return for the broader success of the group as a whole, then everything eventually collapses, or reverts to a state of oligarchy in which the privileged few are the only ones who actually have any freedom or power. He cites the Declaration of Independence as an example. While it begins with the words about individual have a right to "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness," the grievances in the document are all collective and perhaps the most powerful route to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone is only through a recognition that we are all in this together.

He talked about the idea of "owning your home." Such a thing is only possible because a bank is willing to back you, because the public as a whole puts money into that bank that can in turn be lent, because the government backs the bank so that people will trust it enough to put their money in it. Your insurance on the home is possible because so many people pay into the system. Unless you are one of those rare folks off the grid, living in that house is comfortable because of a public sewer and utility system. The water coming into the house is clean because there are laws about that sort of thing. The road going to your house is paid for with public resources. You don't have a porn store open next door because there are laws for that too. In short, hundreds, maybe thousands, of people are responsible for the simple step of self-reliance that is called home ownership.

It isn't hard to see the same jump to education. I went to a public college and didn't pay tuition in five years of higher education. A scholarship endowment--backed by a LOT of generous people and taxpayers--did that for me. And while my obligation may not be to work at a traditional nine to five job, I still have to assert that I have a deep obligation to society. Where I overstepped the mark in my previous post was that in implying my own approach to paying it forward (or back or whatever you call it) is the only approach. If the first generation of feminists taught us anything, it's that women should get to choose whatever life they wish; I hope that the second generation of feminists has the wisdom to realize that choosing means leaving behind the things we don't value and rejecting false ideas of what it means to be a woman.


Kimberly Bluestocking said...

Thanks for sharing your follow-up thoughts.

I think the most important skills I gained in college were the ability to think critically and express my thoughts coherently (most of the time). Though I may someday enter the profession I trained for (history teaching), I believe the ability to analyze and communicate were well worth the time and money I spent acquiring them.

Incidentally, I still journal nearly every day, and find it much easier to write about the bad or mundane stuff than the really good things that happen. Pity.

Janssen said...

What a lovely post. Sometimes it is HARD to accept other people's decisions, isn't it? I think it can be nearly impossible to not feel somewhat judged by others' actions, even if their circumstances make their actions based on something completely different from your own.

mstanger said...

We could do a lot better job acknowledging personal revelation. We give it so much lip service in theory, but when it comes down to real people making real decisions, we often get skeptical/judgmental.

Just today at lunch, I had someone question the decision my wife and I made to have her serve a mission before we got married. Wasn't that contra to all kinds of guidance from Church leaders? And by the way, what did our Bishops' think? When I responded that we hadn't even run it by our Bishops, because the right of first revelation was Dawnelle's, and her inspiration on the question was more than clear, it was met with a bit of surprise.

Teach them righteous principles and let them govern themselves is as true today as when uttered by Joseph.