Monday, June 26, 2006

Dropouts, Pt. 2

Some more thoughts on it: Mental MultiVitamin responds with some kind words and profound thoughts. Amy, a fellow lawyer-turned-mommy, on using stupid people to raise the next generation. Plenty of discussion ongoing over at the Choosing Home blog.

And some more of my own, typed with a finger on each hand that has been smashed in separate wrangles with the washing machine. Life at home is not without its perils.

There is one thing on which I firmly agree with Ms. Hirshman: Work matters. Work should be significant, meaningful, real. It should contribute to a flourishing life, not be a means to make enough money to go spend time somewhere else. I was blessed to have such paid work, and I hope to do something similar again someday. My husband is blessed to have such work.

Ironically, that is one of the reasons I am at home. I want my children to believe that, to be equipped to find work that matters to them, and the current public education system and its private knock-offs seem designed to instruct children in how to trade boredom for petty rewards.

If Ms. Hirshman is indeed concerned about how many people are disaffected with the world of work, perhaps she should stop and consider whether there isn't something wrong with our society and economy, instead of simply berating them to all get back into it.

I have an idealistic notion that any necessary work can be meaningful to the right person, and that in the perfect society, no one would hate their job. But whether we can reach such a state or not, I don't think we will ever get to the state Ms. Hirshman seems to desire, where people think their jobs are more important than their families.

She points out that Mozart would not, on his deathbed, have regretted the time he devoted to his work. Probably not. But Mozart's work was his ticket to earthly immortality--something that, regardless of their belief in the immortality of the soul, most human beings desparately want.

Most of us, even the "elite," are not Mozart, or Shakespeare, or Julius Caesar. We cannot commission marble statues. We know that no matter how high we rise, and how prestigious our position, two years after retirement, when we return to the scene of our triumphs to visit a former colleague, the receptionist will smile at us blandly and say, "Who shall I say is here?"

The vast majority of human beings can, however, reproduce, and by so doing leave a permanent mark on the world. Yes, it's the stuff of tacky wall hangings: "The world will be a different place because I made a difference in the life of a child." But it's the same drive that raised the pyramids, and it's not going away. People will find their families more important than their work because their families will remember them; can hardly forget them even if they try.

Ms. Hirshman also deplores women wasting their intellect and training on such a small group of people as their immediate family. By this bias, the star of a local theater is wasting talent that could get her a bit part on television; the teacher of a class of twenty is wasting time that could be used to teach sixty; a boutique shop is wasting space that could be used by a Super Walmart.

The size of our immediate audience does not determine the size of our contribution to society. Some things can only be done in person, for a small number. That does not make them small deeds, nor does it limit their impact.

Ms. Hirshman complains that some woman is languishing at home who might have founded the next Starbucks. I have nothing against Starbucks in particular, but I don't think our country is lacking in chain restaurants. What it lacks is people who can cook a decent meal and stop long enough over it to think and talk.

When someone grows an organic tomato in their backyard; when someone stops to really listen to a child's question; when someone reads a book that challenges their thinking; when someone gets out the good china even though it will mean washing the dishes by hand; the world is a better place, even for those who are not there.

This is work that impacts society at large. Indeed, if it were not, Ms. Hirshman would hardly have cause for concern.


Spunky said...

"This is work that impacts society at large. Indeed, if it were not, Ms. Hirshman would hardly have cause for concern."

So very true.

Anonymous said...

I read Ms Hirshman's excerpt and two things came to mind. The first is that she seems to be demanding that I (and all women) pursue her happiness (or at least her idea of self-fulfillment). Now I am a home schooling mom of 5 who quit my great job and all those things that drive her crazy, BUT,I don't think everyone should homeschool, or quit their job, or even marry and have kids! It would be good for her to consider that different people have different selves to be fulfilled. It also might be good for her to consider that those who most avidly seek self fulfillment seem to be those with the hardest time finding it
The second thing which came to mind is that there is a place for such single minded devotion - indeed it can be very noble and essential to the good of the world. If you are called to dedicate the first fruits of your life to a great cause (and may it be a greater cause than self fulfillment), by all means, do it! But don't do that and marry and have children on the side.

(To clarify, I'm not saying don't have a family if you work, I'm saying if you have a family, the work can't be the center. There are always more workers, your kids never get another mommy.)