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Monthly Archives: October 2010

The mugger and the social worker

This is the kind of thing that makes you believe in humanity again. Julio Diaz, who treated his mugger and made a true connection with him, reminds me of the Sufis who served and embraced robbers. It’s a whole other mindset from our preoccupation with ‘beating’ everyone else – beating our competitors, our suffocating families, our demanding spouses, cancer, depression … Could there be a less stressful way to navigate life than to be focused on beating everything?

With more people like Julio Diaz, there is hope. With even a few more people like him, we could do better.

 

Work and dream

When you were a kid, you aspired to being a grownup. Trying out baby-alive, putting on dad’s glasses, and pretending to look serious, anxious, over-worked and stressed-out.

You have worked hard. You have reached the holy grail. You are enveloped in the lifestyle that means constant motion, constant stress, constant worry, constantly trying to stay ahead without success. Your to-do list is never done.

For weeks, I have been trying to find the time to put together a file for work. Every week, half the week is spent preparing for teaching. Then a couple of days are spent trying to catch up with the administrative and household rubbish that piled up over the work-week. (Because this is the leisure part). Suddenly, the weekend is here. Or so it’s called. Friday, Saturday and Sunday essentially mean grading and giving feedback on lengthy graduate assignments, with a mega-trip to the grocery store thrown in.

And Monday is back. The file is gathering dust. This lifestyle of never being done, of being on a treadmill that never powers down, is simply unsustainable.

And yet – most of the world lives in a state of anxiety about mere survival. – Getting enough food, protecting and nourishing one’s children, seeking safety and security – these are constant preoccupations.

Compared to that, the problems of intellectual workers are really just that – the product of intellectual work.

Am I in my own private matrix, where I have constructed a dreamworld of tenure, teaching, service, numberless committees, articles, manuscripts, book chapters, book manuscripts, reviews, conferences … a delicate crystalline structure that is a dream, a bubble?

I have always believed that this worldly concerns shouldn’t overcome your entire life, your consciousness. You should live in the world but not be of it.

In practical terms, they say, don’t spend too much time prepping for class. Get grading done fast, don’t linger over it. Get your lit reviews done by skimming the sources. Don’t savor the texture of any of these activities. Don’t stop to smell the – well, roses, or you’ll get caught in the rain.

Sometimes I wonder if there are means of seeking livelihood that allow for an independent thought here and there. Or if that is a dream. Perhaps the way is to decide what the balance of life, the division of activities is going to be – and then to make it happen.

That, too, sounds like a dream. But to those thousands of sisters and brothers who are struggling to find work so as to pay their bills, these dreams, these complaints, these are all artificial things, dreams.

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