Comments on Culture, at a Crossroads

January 24, 2009 at 2:26 am 2 comments

OK, so I’m still on maternity leave (no baby yet, tick, tick…), but I am compelled to write. Lots of muddled thoughts I want to get down and out of my hormone-laden brain.  And since I am not one for holding myself to arbitrary rules, I am going to write today.

Catching up on a month of my blogging friends’ posts this week (Bullseye, Baby!, Letters to My Daughters, Growing a Boy…) left me feeling so connected to these writing women, and so connected to the feelings of both hope and frustration all conglomerating around us in this historical moment. Talking to non-blogging friends (my lawyer friend just laid off, my Hollywood friend doing the rounds to find a next project, my SAHM friend feeling torn and tired) I feel so blessed that we can all lean on one another and talk through these challenging times and scenarios.

I keep thinking that, along with each personal situation, so much of everything happening right now, so much of what people are feeling, comes back to culture. This culture of ours that I studied from the academic side, and continue to study in small ways daily. This culture that has swung to extreme excess and is now looking for a new place to land. This culture of fear, pride, shame, hope, mixed with media and money and Protestant work ethic and checkered history.

I am seeing our culture play out with my husband’s current situation, too, in such familiar ways. As he wins these amazing state and national teaching awards, which is quite exciting, he is also sucked into our cultural attitude of never-stop-till-you-get-to-the-top (which is quite exhausting, frankly). In the media, and people’s comments, it is all about him winning the next award — getting to the top level, being the “best of the best.”  Nobody satisfied until he wins more and more. Whether or not he really feels the need to win any more. Whether or not he actually feels that where he is and what he has achieved here, truly, is enough. Which he basically does. But no one will take that for an answer; nobody believes he could actually be OK not being #1 teacher of all teachers anywhere.

It reminds me of when I decided to leave my PhD program after four years. I was truly at peace with my decision, and by the time I actually left, did not doubt it was the right course for me. But so many people, often people I barely knew, when they heard about this said, “Well, you will finish,” and “You can go back and get that degree; I know you will.” But, see, I would try to tell them — see, folks, I am OK without a PhD. I am content with a Master’s degree and a life I want. I am happy with my decision.  It was enough for me, but not for them.  In our culture, if you “quit” before you “win” — or if you are content to not be #1, or to not have the highest degree — it is usually seen as some sort of failure or weakness.  

But, why?  Why are people so invested in this concept of being “the best of the best”?  Is this not the attitude that has driven our country into a quagmire of failing economy, failing war, failing international reputation?  Is this not the hubris that blinded so many of our citizens into decisions that we are ultimately all paying the price for now?  This idea that we need more, deserve more, know better, are better.  This idea that we never have enough.

Now, I know that many people are well-intentioned in their cheerleading for each other in this way — those who encouraged me to go back and finish the PhD (even when I didn’t feel the need to), those who are telling Alex he will “win it all (!!!)” and won’t take “it’s really OK if I don’t” for an answer.  They think this is what we are supposed to say and feel — they think telling someone they will be #1 is the best thing to say, the most kind and supportive.  It’s meant to be the ultimate compliment (right?).  And begging to differ is often received as being ingrateful or contrary — or somehow dim-witted, really — rather than true to heart.

But, I listen to my friends, see the situations so many Americans are in right now, and I have to beg to differ.  Even though I know the intentions may be true and good, I have to counter this notion that we can only be satisfied when we are above everyone else out there in the world, that we must always strive for more, more, more.  I have to be the grateful, ingrateful one who says, “thank you, but we really don’t need more.”  I believe in my heart of hearts that if more of us tried on this perspective, it would help.  We are kind of being forced there right now anyway, why not embrace it?

This is of course not to say that I live in sparse rooms and eat stale bread each night for dinner.  No, I have a warm, cozy home and I dine on fresh, organic meals.  I have a lot, more than a lot, and I do like what I have.  But, the point is, most of us Americans have a lot.  We are in a position in the world that most people outside of our country only dream of.  We have more than we need.  So much more already.

This is of course also not to say that ambition is a constant negative, that striving for better is something I discourage.  Hearing our new president speak is the epitome of what striving for better is all about.  But, listen hard to his definitions of “better.”  Listen to our own.  “Better” is a country that does not torture, not one in which everyone drives an SUV.  “Better” is opportunity for all, not a few people reaping all of the wealth and success.  “Better” is a healthy planet, not more stuff.  “Better” is peaceful world relations, not domination.  You get the idea.  We can strive for more and better, let’s just think twice about the more and better we are striving for.  And why we are striving for what we are striving.  Maybe that’s what we must beg to differ.

OK, this post is all over the place, I think, but it feels so good to write.  I’ll go back to gestating now.  I may be back again, late in the night when I cannot sleep because my belly is so huge there is simply no comfortable position in which to lay.  Or I may be gone for a while, as I said in my last post, once I have a newborn in my arms again and have to learn all over how to mother, and learn anew how to juggle two children’s needs.  In any case, thanks for reading, for pondering our culture with me, and my good thoughts go out to you in this historic week, at this amazing crossroads in our culture….

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Birth Time Postpartum

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Melissa  |  January 24, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    I love that you’re thinking about what it means to be, to do “better” just before diving into this great life-changing experience. I’m hoping you walk forwarded grounded and blessed by these insights.

    Reply
  • 2. Intetalsine  |  June 4, 2009 at 3:26 am

    Sweet blog. I never know what I am going to come across next. I think you should do more posting as you have some pretty intelligent stuff to say.

    I’ll be watching you . 🙂

    Reply

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You are visiting "Having Enough (In a Have-It-All World)"...

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To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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