Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thinking About the Choices We Make

I don't know what's wrong with me lately. Something's different.

I cannot quite put my finger on it, but in a nutshell, I am increasingly fascinated with the human condition -- our journey through life.

Maybe it has been a long time coming. I can remember a few similar times in my life. I remember writing stories about a particularly skilled physical education teacher in Las Cruces. Make all of the "gym teacher" jokes that you want, but this guy connected with kids in a way that was inspiring. It made me reevaluate my own choices.

Lately I am interested in the choices that people make. How do you decide to live your life?

All of this funnels into an ongoing referendum on how I choose to live my life, which impacts my family directly, of course.

I care about the values that I am teaching my children. I worry whether I am teaching them the right things. What is important?

It's difficult to balance one's own life with one's children's lives. Take, for example, income.

I am pretty sure -- although I have never tested it -- that I could get a job tomorrow doing market research for a pretty hefty increase in salary. But that job would mean moving somewhere I don't want to live. I'd have to work more hours, and I'd have a longer commute. But my kids would have more opportunities. They could go to a private school. I'm the product of a private school, and trust me, the education is better.

Life is not -- or at least it should not be -- about material things, I think. And I love my job in academia. Being a professor is the best job in America. I have great graduate students, and I really enjoy most of our undergraduate students. So life is good. I am happy.

Most of my friends are not professors. So I learn a lot through the decisions that they make. Most of my friends are not corporate types. They, by and large, choose time over money. They take unique paths to pay the bills while providing ample time to pursue the aspects of humanity that make them smile.

This is not to say that they do not question some of their own decisions. They, too, wonder about the trade off between career and a life. I enjoy hearing what they say. I enjoy hearing about their reasons.

How do we strike a balance between financing our existence and charting the kind of life that we want?

We all do it differently, of course. But perhaps these common struggles represent what it means to be human.

Many of my current questions are due to Spinoza. The excommunicated philosopher.

I wonder whether he was happy. He lived modestly. He financed his existence by making eye glasses. Although I cannot be sure, I can imagine that this would not have been his preference. He rented a room from a family. Spinoza was in no way wealthy. And breathing all of that glass dust from ground lenses may well have contributed to his early death.

Yet he had many visitors who sought his opinion on the human condition. Some of his work was published anonymously, and some of it was published posthumously. But it persists. His ideas persist.

While in Las Cruces, N.M., last weekend I picked up a volume of Spinoza's writings at a used bookstore. Although I have not had time to fully read the work, I did thumb through the Ethics. I was impressed with the insight that is still relevant 400 years later.

Spinoza lived a modest life, but he still affects people four centuries later. Somehow that seems especially profound to me lately. It accords well with my value of time and family over money and career.

No one on their deathbed says, "I wish I spent more time at the office," I often say. I don't know who coined the phrase.

Put another way, there is nothing that I fear more than a Willy Loman life. Perhaps it is a product of growing up in the 1980s. Perhaps it is a product of watching a bunch of my private school friends have shell shock after Black Monday in 1987. Perhaps (likely) I'm just strange.

But it fascinates me how people come around to the decisions that they do.

I like to think that I make a difference in a few students' lives. And I like to think that perhaps something I write will somehow affect the field. And somehow that seems to avoid my fear of traveling salesmanship.

It is a blessing to be surrounded by interesting people. I wish everyone were as lucky.

Labels: ,


Blogger Tim Laubacher said...

You seem very into Spinoza lately.

What's interesting to me is that we know that often, people use logic to justify decisions they make, whereas some emotion leads to the actual decision.

I wonder how often we as humans can look back on a decision and accurately state what led to a decision. How often would we be correct? How often do we have no clue why we made the decisions we've made? I wonder.

1:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home