Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Mon 12/12/2005 7:40 AM
Random Thought: Just Think About It

It's a crisp dawn. A new day is being born. Each ray of the rising sun is a magic wand waving today alive. All possibilities are opening up. There's something of a sacredness to this new day. It's like watching a reenactment of "in the beginning." And yet, so many people sleep through it, both literally and figuratively. It never dawns on them--pun intended--to offer it a thankful, tip-of-the-hat "hi there." For me, there is no overlooking, no taking for granted, no ho-hum, no "just another," no "nothing much," and speeding by. No, each dawn is for me an invitation, an inspiration, a consecration, a witnessing, a revelation, a thanking, a privilege, a hallowing, a freshness, a beginning, an opening, a newness, and a command to "go forth." Having had cancer will do that.

Well, I was "hello-ing" this only day I have on the front stoop. No walking for me for a while. Can't do much else either. I'm under virtual house arrest for a month! Just resting and recuperating. I had a hernia operation last week that was the result of my prostatectomy in January. They had to do it, as my surgeon smirked, "the old fashioned 'cut and slash' way" because of the scar tissue inside. To get even with his humor, I drew a smilely on my groin before the operation. So, now, with a 4 inch line of surgical stapes, my right groin has the look of a puffed-up zippered pocket. My angelic Susan has become something of a combined hovering mother hen, loving and caring wife, and inflexible drill instructor. Achy. Stiff. Bored. When I can do something, it'll take me months to get back into physical shape. No complaints. I've discovered there are a whole lot of worse things than receiving proper and needed medical care.

As I leaned against the cold bricks, on the chilling tiles, sipping some freshly brewed coffice, and thinking about enveloping darkness and sparks of light, I found myself going back to a conversation I had with someone a few weeks ago at the Lilly conference. I was hosting a luncheon "presenter round table." One of those professors who had signed up to sit and chat with me professed how much he cared about students and how he wanted to do so much for them, but was restricted at his institution's policies. I had met him last year. He is thoughtful, generous, well-intentioned, and caring. Yet, he, for all his verbiage, like so many others still served his own self-interest while his serving interests in students had their limits. I was listening to him defend his decisions and explain why he couldn't or wouldn't do this or that. "I'd love to, but...." "I really want to, but...." "I agree with you, but...." "I'd rather teach and put all my energies into helping students, but...." "I feel a need to, but...." His "buts" sounded as if he was taking his "butt" out from harm's way in the battle zones on his campus. "It's too risky to be different. I wouldn't get tenure. Then, I'd lose my job. I'm no saint. It's purely a practical decision."

I appreciated his position. But, just think about it, the decision isn't so pure, is it? Think about what he said. Think about the broken connection between his value system and his actions. Think about the disconnect between him and others around him. Think about how alone he feels in a too often haughty and unforgiving and inflexible academic world. Think about how joylessly tinny his words sound. Think about how he feels his actions are losing their sacramental possibilities. Think about his depth of distrust and the breadth of his fear and width of his resignation. Think about how he is literally ''being lived' and is acting out scripts written by others. Think about how he's unwittingly focusing on himself and putting the students out of focus. Think about all that draining energy he is using to constantly convince himself he's in the right, that he can't change the system, and that he can only swallow whatever it handed to him. Think about how his own feelings and fears quickly became the issue. Think about how quickly he made his feelings seem so altruistic, how those feelings had eaten at his reserves of hope, how they had depleted the wellsprings of his commitment, how they had disoriented his heart and soul, how they had become a civilized distraction, and how they had drowned out the hard question.

Just think about, then, how this extraordinary person has allowed himself to be cowered into a going-along-to-get-along dance of "ordinarianism." Think about how self-interest has a powerful tendency to disable our objectivity and befuddle our ability to live up to moral principles. And when we think our financial or physical or professional security is at stake, the best of us are vulnerable to reason-crippling self-rationalization and self-delusion and self-righteousness. The greater the threat to our self-interest, the more likely it is that we will slam our minds shut to other perspectives and defend our positions with ferocity, as if the intensity of our convictions makes them more valid.

Just think about how he reflects the extent to which our educational culture has imprisioned the vast majority of its adherents. And, just think about how that may be the real dumbing down of contemporary education.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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