Saturday, April 30, 2011

Don't Let the Bastards Scare You

One of the lines that I found particularly memorable in Dan Rather’s speech earlier this week was to “not let the ‘bastards’ scare you”. He was referring to the government and heads of news agencies that exerted pressure on him and other reporters to censor what they said or to skew the story in a certain manner. Rather acknowledged that a reporter (and people in virtually any line of work) can meet bastards “anywhere and at any time, but that ‘they’ should not discourage ‘us’”. I found this to be particularly moving. His use of ‘they’ and ‘us’ drew us together as a collective with him, which was a powerful tool in his speech. His acknowledgement that we will all face ‘bastards’ who tell us we can’t do something or shouldn’t. We are not alone in the fight, it is something that people all over the country are facing (and in our nation’s history have faced) against those who want to benefit from the system in unfair ways—whether that be from discrimination, censorship, or merely preventing us from pursuing our passions for their own monetary gains or personal satisfaction. I found this to be incredibly inspirational, and it was something that I will definitely take with me for comfort that I am not alone when I face adversity in my own life.

The Need for Relationships and the Expression of Gratitude in Our Lives

When Dan Rather mentioned in his speech that he has been married to his wife for almost fifty-four years, I have to admit I was surprised. That is a long time. Especially when compared to today’s statistic that almost fifty percent of marriages will end in divorce. Clearly Rather and his wife must be doing something right. A key thing to relationships is helping one another grow. In Prager's book Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Repair Manual the author talked about the need for relationships in order to be happy. Looking specifically at romantic relationships he said that we seek them out because we find meaning in fulfilling others’ needs. The bond found in intimate relationships is like no other.

In Rather’s case his relationship with his wife has clearly played a key role in his life. For example even look at the story he told at the beginning of his speech about the trip his wife decided they needed to make to her hometown. She felt Rather’s accomplishments were going to his head and efforts needed to be made to make him more humble. When Rather commented that if she had married her high school sweetheart she could have ended up helping to manage his convenience station she had a great response. She said something to the effect of “no, if I had ended up marrying him he would have ended up as the talk host for Good Morning America”. Dan Rather and his wife reminded me of how relationships are there to provide us with support and to give us the feeling that we are needed by somebody else. For Rather they help to keep him humble and for all of us can serve as means of growth and maturity.

Also, we must remember to appreciate what we have. The fact we live in America, something that we so often take for granted, is something to be thankful for. We live in a democracy where our voice can be heard and every citizen granted a right to vote. Rather told us that we should also express thanks for the incredible opportunity to go to St. Olaf. Sure things are not perfect at our school or in our country but they could be so much worse. For that we must always be fortunate.

News in Rather's Eyes

Something Petra brought up in class on Friday was a quote she liked from Dan Rather's speech. It was that "News in it's best definition is something you need to know that someone in higher power doesn't want you to know."

I think this definitely holds true today. Living in a world where radio, TV and newspapers are collectively owned by 4-6 companies within their market we must be even more careful that we rely upon honest and unbiased sources of journalism. It can be hard but the news is the backbone of both democracy and freedom, the best way and sometimes only option for citizens to evaluate if the nation's leaders and laws are serving his or her best interests and change them if needed. It is more than just interesting or meeting curiosity.

The news is the raw material of freedom & democracy. Furthermore though stories like the royal wedding can be interesting we definitely have issues with our priorities when coverage of Prince William and Kate Middleton gets 11 whole minutes of coverage while pressing issues such as the war in Iraq get less than 11 seconds in a broadcast. Entertainment, though definitely something we, and I know I definitely for sure enjoy should not overwhelm news like it does. Wars and issues half the globe away matter. After all, as Rather said "we live in serious times. That means you and me folks. But nonetheless there is always causes for optimism; history is filled with obstacles overcome but without correct and complete information its hard to come by."

Chasing Your Dreams

In addition to his statement that we will all face bastards in our own lives, (though each person’s might wear different disguises), Dan Rather spoke movingly about following your passions. This is something we have talked about extensively in one of my classes here at St. Olaf, Images of Wellness. As Rather urged, follow your dreams. If you have one passion, one specific dream, follow it until it dies out. In particular I found the raw emotion he put into his voice with these words to make me really pay attention.

Rather spoke with such emphasis and enthusiasm in his advice that it really made me listen and take his wisdom to heart. Oftentimes a potential career or even unpaid volunteer opportunity can give your life fulfillment and meaning, which in turn reaps both happiness as well as the feeling that one is truly making a difference in the world. No matter if a salary is low or high or a dream seems virtually impossible it is so important to try. Several of the authors we have read this semester in my Images of Wellness class include Prager and Kushner in Happiness is a Serious Problem and Living a Life that Matters respectively have stated this point many times throughout their books. It has come up in our class many times as well. As Rather said, ‘follow it until it dies out’, because after-all enthusiasm for life is what makes each of us come alive and find happiness and fulfillment , leading a life of personal wellness. I will not forget Rather’s words or those of Prager or Kushner, and their wisdom fuels me with extra incentive to pursue a future which I am passionate about, and to follow any dreams until they die out.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Transcendental Wild Oats: Grand Ideas vs. Rationality: Living in the Dual Land of Imagination and Reality

Today we discussed a reading from Louisa May Alcott, entitled "Transcendental Oats". In her piece, described as a 'biting satire on life in a 19th century Utopian community' she provides an interesting perspective on Transcendentalism. She contrasts possiblities with practicality, or grand ideas vs. rationality in a Transcendentalist community. In her piece she contrasts the father who is the dreamer with infinite ideas and the intellectual in the family with his wife, the practical one of the two who sees what needs to be done to keep things going in their daily lives like meals and housing. I think this passage sums it up quite nicely:

"'Each member is to perform the work for which experience, strength, and taste best fit him,' continued Dictator Lion. 'Thus drudgery and disorder will be avoided and harmony prevail... Each one finds congenial occupation till the meridian meal; when some deep-searching conversation gives rest to the body and development of the mind. Healthful labor again engages us till teh last meal, when we assemble in social communion, prolonged till sunset, when we retire to sweet repose, ready for the next day's activity'" (5).

In theory this all sounds great, right? Every person is supposed to do the jobs which he or she is best skilled for and which fits his or her interest. This in turn will prevent boredom, and get everything accomplished, and in the end of the day all can engage in thoughful conversation which will foster thought and growth in all citizens. However, this clearly has some problems as Alcott points out...

As one citizen asks, "'What part of the work do you incline to yourself?'[said Sister Hope], with a humorous glimmer in her keen eyes. 'I shall wait till it is made clear to me. Being in preference to doing is the great aim, and this comes to us rather by a resigned willingness than a wilful activity, which is a check to all divine growth,' responded Brother Timon. 'I thought so.' And Mrs. Lam sighed audibly, for during the year he had spent in her family Brother Timon had so faithfully carried out his idea of 'being, not doing', that she had found his 'divine growth' both an expensive and unsatisfactory process. Here her husband struck into conversation, his face shining with the light and joy of the splendid dreams nad high ideals hovering before him" (5).

This passage demonstrates so clearly the issues found in a community where many of the men focus on the infinite possibilites, the theoretical, ignoring the practical needs of daily subsistence. For this reason the man's wife is forced to do the daily chores, yet receives little to no recognition for her work, while these men sit by 'waiting for a revelation of divine growth' to come to them. For these reasons though the description of the community above may sound great in theory but clearly is unfair and unrealistic in practice. Sometimes imagination must be sacrificed in need for the more pressing needs of food and lodging.

Transcendentalists and Change in Society Today

When were talking about Transcendentalism and our assigned reading, "On Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau on Wednesday, we talked about our ideas about what transcendentalism really was. One of the things we agreed upon was that Transcendentalists in the time of HDt comprised a small group in society, which had high optimism about an individual's power to accomplish much in the face of the masses.

This reminded me of a popular quote from American Anthropologist Margaret Meade: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

I think this quote is essentially the definition of Transcendentalists at the time, and also reminded me that even when it seems like change is impossible and the individual can do nothing that really isn't the case. You can always do something, and that is far better than to be a bystander, not directly responsible for the nation's issues but not contributing to their improvement either.

Language Use: Don't Intend to Offend, But It All Depends on the Listener

In class today we talked about how in many instances people do not intend to offend others in their language use, even telling others not to take offense by preceding what they say with the phrase "don't take offense". Nonetheless though it is easy to forget that despite a warning not to 'take offense', it's really all in the eyes of the beholder and he or she still may take offense.

This came up from a passage in Alcott's Transcendentalist Wild Oats, in reference to the part where she writes that "One youth, believing that language was of little consequence if the spirit was only right, startled new-comers by blandly greeting them with 'Good-morning, damn you' and other remarks of an equally mixed order" (8).

This reminded me of how in middle school health my class was told that though many of us thought that swearing was "cool" but that the people who also swear won't notice if we did (because they do it too), and the only people who would really notice were those who took offense, so that honestly there really was no status elevation found in swearing.

It also reminded me of how many people will say "don't take offense", but then are surprised to find the listener does, in fact, take offense. In these instances it seems important to remember that what matters most in the end is not your intent but rather how it's perceived by the listener. After all, in the end that's what counts. A good reminder for us all, I think.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Indians and the Railroad

I was definitely horrified to read Native Americans and the Transcontinental Railroad. It was interesting to read about how the railroad contributed to the escalating conflict between white settlers and the Native Americans. I thought the fact that they wanted to "exterminate" the Indians though was crazy. The whole thing seemed very violent, such as this: "In 1868 a group of Sioux created a more intense blockade, upturning both rails and piling wooden ties in between them, then tying the whole thing together with telegraph wire. The resulting wreck killed two crewmen, one of whom was crushed beneath the train's boiler (1)" The visual imagery I get in my head reading about the crewman who was crushed beneath the train was honestly kind've disturbing. This is one of those moments in history, much like Nazi Germany or the Japanese Internment that is almost hard to imagine actually happened.

I Don't Feel Like Dancin'

I Don't Feel Like Dancin' is a song I really enjoy by the Scissor Sisters. It's one of those unique pump-up songs that really gets me going in the morning. It's also a song that is one of my best friends back home's favorites. It reminds me of many of my memories from back home too, which is a plus. Here it is, if you haven't heard it before:

More Thoughts on Thoreau

I present you with another quote I liked from Thoreau:

"We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep" (4).

I thought this was cool. I am always invigorated by imagining the possiblities in life, enthused about planning for my future and how that relates to the moment that we are in now. What can I get out of today that will help me in the future? Thinking about the many possiblities keeps me enthused about life as I go about my daily tasks.

Thoreau on Early Mornings

Personally I really like early mornings (as long as I get an adequate amount of sleep the night before). On the weekends I almost always wake up for breakfast, and get there by 9:30 (I know, it's weird. Trust me, my friends like to joke about it but that's okay.). Usually I am one of the few people in the Caf in the mornings and eat by myself in one of the booths. I actually kind've enjoy this because it provides some time for reflection. I also like the fact that each day is a new beginning, and even if yesterday didn't go as well as I had planned (I didn't get as much homework done as I wanted to, or didn't get the chance to see a friend) this is another chance to do it. In a sense these new beginnings energize me.

For this reason I particularly enjoyed parts of Thoreau's Where I Lived and What I Lived For.

In the passage he writes, "Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself" and "Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again (5)" These two sentences in particular really resonated with me. I liked how he phrased that each morning was "a cheerful invitation" to create a life of simplicity, and that each day was something that you could renew yourself in. Yes there is the repetition of one day coming after the previous but each day is a new chance. A new opportunity. And I love that.

And for that reason I get up early.

Thoughts on Thoreau

Something I didn't really understand when reading Thoreau's Where I Lived and What I Lived For earlier this afternoon was the following: "But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail (1)" Perhaps he was talking about the idea that one shouldn't devote too much effort (or commit too much) to one thing, but the comparison of a farm to the county jail seemed odd to me. Also, I've always thought commitments were a good thing. I mean, in high school I was always encouraged to commit to several activities that I found meaningful and spend time on those, rather than spreading myself over many activities and making less of a difference. Does anyone else have insight on this? Maybe I'm just not reading it right.

An Intriguing Example of the Power of Blogging

DeAne recently told me about a great article that demonstrated the power that blogging can have. It serves as a reminder that when one worries that one's blogging is useless musings that no one really reads them that is not always the case.
In the article, titled The Vast Virtual Body of Christ: Cancer Patient Deanna Thompson on the Beauty of the Internet the author wrote about how internet postings both provided a source of reflection upon her struggle with cancer, as well as provoking thought (and subsequent action) in a coworker. As she writes, "My colleague wrote about my postings on Caring Bridge and about how my journey with cancer–and along with it, my struggles with my own faith–had become a source of inspiration to her. Spurred on by my story, she had even gone out on a limb and attempted to pray herself (1)" I thought this was awesome. So cool to see the power of blogging!

Anyways, I found this to be a very thought-provoking article. I really encourage you to take a look.

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