My friend Thomas asked “Who are you now?" His prompt, which I’ve taken in another direction, and my short post about grit have left me with many thoughts, mostly questions. This draws from and is included in my ever-growing collection of ideas about smallness.
The expectation now is that you are more powerful than you were, that you rank higher and have more authority, that you have accumulated more (wealth, possessions, larger home, etc.). We promote and we strive for bigger and better, for more fame, grander visions, and wider impact, but do we ever celebrate smaller and better, the known-by-few, simpler visions, and narrower scope? Can we celebrate those who have stayed where they are or those who have taken a step back?
Schools and colleges frequently celebrate the grandiose accomplishments of their students, alumni, and faculty, but they usually don’t profile and celebrate the loving parent, the non-professional caring for the sick or the dying, the school volunteer, the person reading what others are writing, the life that doesn’t scale up. Why not? Is it because these stories are boring? Don’t we diminish their importance by not including them?
A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. —Bill Watterson
Being a good mom, being a good dad, being a good neighbor – these things are every bit as urgent and political as self-consciously being “radical” no? —Randall Szott
"By embiggening the import of national abstractions, it pulls us away from good opportunities to work on simple, tangible, everyday things. […] We should make as big a fuss tending the culture right in front of us – raising children, jury duty, block parties." —Charlie Loyd
"I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride." —William James
"I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.”
—Naomi Shihab Nye
Do we set up children for peaking early and not provide them with the tools to deal with decline? Do we make them feel important (class/school/city/state champions, valedictorian, class president, queens!, kings!, etc.), but forget to put that into perspective with regard to the size of the pond?
Do we ever consider that the “winners” have actually taken from the “losers”? If there are finite resources available to us, especially attention, then when someone receives a lot of it, doesn’t someone else have to get less? Can we take the competition out of our lives? Can we stop obsessing about “personal branding,” the number of followers, the size of audience, the breadth of impact, the connections to big names? Can we step away from the ground breaking and focus on the ground sustaining, the ground healing? Can we emphasize the power of the day-to-day, the beauty of the local and small?
In schools, our attempts at global awareness often amount to spending money, getting on planes, and burning jet fuel. They leave us with slide shows and little understanding of the long-term effects and the lack of positive impact that our parachuting-in approach has on the lives of those we visit, observe, and often disrupt. Do we have to travel far to have a global perspective? Doesn’t Wendell Berry’s take on the matter make more sense?
I don’t think “global thinking” is futile, I think it is impossible. You can’t think about what you don’t know and nobody knows this planet. Some people know a little about a few small parts of it … The people who think globally do so by abstractly and statistically reducing the globe to quantities. Political tyrants and industrial exploiters have done this most successfully. Their concepts and their greed are abstract and their abstractions lead with terrifying directness and simplicity to acts that are invariably destructive. If you want to do good and preserving acts you must think and act locally. The effort to do good acts gives the global game away. You can’t do a good act that is global … a good act, to be good must be acceptable to what Alexander Pope called “the genius of the place”. This calls for local knowledge, local skills, and local love that virtually none of us has, and that none of us can get by thinking globally. We can get it only by a local fidelity that we would have to maintain through several lifetimes … I don’t wish to be loved by people who don’t know me; if I were a planet I would feel exactly the same way.
There’s a new interview with Bill Watterson circulating the Internet today. I’ll probably post a quote from it at some time or another, but for now, I’m sharing a clip from the commencement address he gave at Kenyon college in 1990, “Some Thoughts on the Real World by One Who Glimpsed It and Fled)”:
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
Mental Floss has the new words from Watterson.