I will qualify this post with a statement: I really love school, education, and learning. However, Western education has failed me. Big time.
From the time I entered pre-school I was taught that in order to be successful in life I had to do well in school, get a degree (or two or three), get a good job, and everything else (such as friendships, marriage, and family) would fall in to place in its own time. And for a goal-oriented, type A, perfectionist person like myself, I knew that I wanted to be successful and would do what I needed to in order to achieve that. Everyone kept telling me that I should DO what I love instead of BEING with people I love. And I did. With a vengeance.
Today, as I sat in my graduate school philosophy class, my professor made an awesome comment. He is actually the inspiration for this post. He basically said that rather than teaching us solely how to be “successful” (according to the individualistic Western mindset), our education system should have been teaching us social skills – how to treat people with kindness, how to value them for their uniqueness, how to have successful interpersonal relationships. I happen to agree.
Even the [American] Church has failed me. For the past 10 years or so, almost every time I walked into a church the conversation was quickly turned to what skills I could bring to the table and how I could serve. Or, I was forgotten as soon as I walked away. I felt like I only mattered because of what I can do and not simply because I exist. Sure, it helps that many of my skill sets are perfectly tailored to a church setting, but still… Jesus taught us to firstly love God and to secondly love other people. All of the Law summed up in two very simple statements. And we can’t even get that right! All I’m saying is that I’ve spent most of my life being a do-er rather than a be-ing because that’s how I was taught to be in order to have success. I’ve definitely started rethinking that.
Community is a word that I have shied away from most of my adult life. For me, it has come off as a bit disingenuous and something that would force me to be there to set up before and tear down after with (maybe) a cursory “Thank You” tossed in my direction at the end of it. It’s never seemed worth it to me. However, the more I engage with the Gospel and the more I engage in the academic realm, I find that community is essential to making life worth living. But not community in the way that I see it done in Western culture.
As a Western thinker, I don’t actually know how to serve or give without expecting something in return. I don’t truly understand how my actions and words can influence other people, for better or worse. I am careless, reckless, and argumentative. It’s in my DNA. I am human. However, I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I actually put others needs above my own, for their sake and not because I would feel guilty about it later. I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I would take the time to stop and think about the words that were coming out of my mouth rather than saying idle things that I would need to apologize for later. I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I could change the way that I look at the people around me and appreciate them for who they are and not wonder what benefit they might be to me down the road. They would be the benefit, simply because they are apart of my life.
The irony of this post is that without western education, without seminary, without the philosophy class that I was sitting in this morning… I would have never gotten to this point. I have been really careful not to make sweeping generalizations, because there are a lot of people that have made it through life very successful and are amazing, altruistic, loving people. I hope to get there. But I find that my focus needs to shift and what I value needs to change.
Is it just me?