Tuesday, April 26, 2011

voice of inquiry

This morning at work, several coworkers surprised us all with awards for everyone - creatively made on decorated paper plates. Some were serious - the "Strength" award for a coworker who has been battling a serious disease; some were inside jokes - "The Spooning with Rotter Award," many were quite funny; and all reflected some aspects of the person's character or personality. There were plenty of laughs and smiles.

I received the "Voice of Inquiry" award, complete with a medallion and red, white, and blue ribbon that allowed me to hang the award around my neck. "This person always asks questions in our staff meeting, and voices the questions that I often would want to ask," my coworker said before presenting me with the award. I laughed when I received it - because it's certainly true, I do ask a lot of questions in our staff meetings! I'm always seeking to understand clearly, and have no problem voicing questions to receive that clarity.

To be honest, after the initial laugh, I felt a little disappointed with the award. Do I really want to be remembered when I leave this job as the girl that asks all those questions? I'd rather be remembered as someone who was caring, positive, encouraging, etc. But if I'm really honest, I haven't put my all into this job. I've done an adequate and at times very good job with it, but it's not where my heart is. For many of my coworkers, this job represents the beginning of their career in student affairs, but for me, it's a means to a different end. I've got some great coworkers and believe that I work well with everyone, but I've felt like an outsider at times. Which is ok. I lived here for three years before starting this job, so I already had my life, my academic program, my community. This job has never defined me, nor should I let one award define me.

Thinking about it further though, this award does reflect one of my greatest strengths - communication. I'm constantly using verbal and written communication to be understood and to understand. And in this job, part of that is asking a lot of questions to make sure that, and others, understand. It's also something I tell the RAs I supervise to do - "If you're not sure, just ask! It's better to ask about something you think you should already know than do something that you're not sure about." I value questions in my job, in my relationships, in academics, in my spiritual life, because maybe questions don't always lead to clear answers, but they can lead to better understanding.

After our meeting, I thanked my coworker who made my award. He thanked me and said, "Thank you! You've shown me that it's ok to ask questions." Which I guess is a good thing. In a meeting room of 30 plus people, including our supervisors, asking a question could be intimidating for someone who's more shy than I am. But I'm not shy - I love to talk, ask questions, of anyone, anywhere. Being the voice of inquiry for a team is a good thing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Monday, April 04, 2011

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

I've been thinking some about how my being an American has shaped me, my values, my beliefs, my expectations for how life should be, how I create meaning in life, etc, and how this is so different from someone who is Ecuadorian, Turkish, Iranian, or Bangladeshi. As Christians, I think that we like to believe that our beliefs and worldview match a Christian worldview, that our beliefs and how we see the world is entirely shaped through Christ and the Bible. I think that our cultural worldviews often shape our view of Christianity more than the vice versa.

In the US, we live our lives pursuing happiness. And I think sometimes it makes us miserable. It's in our constitution, that everyone has the right to pursue happiness, and I think reflects a cultural mandate that our chief purpose is to be happy. That if we're not happy, if we suffer, if we feel depressed, then something is wrong with us or the world and it needs to be changed. We make most of our decisions by asking, "Will this make me and others happy?" "Will marrying this person make me happy?" "Will this career make me happy?" "Will living in this city make me happy?" "Will doing this hobby make me happy?" And that mindset certainly affects how we approach Christianity - "Will believing this make me happy?" "Will Christ bring me happiness and fulfillment and a good life if I follow Him?" Many Christians continue to try to squeeze happiness out of the gospel as if that were its main purpose, and others walk away when they're not happy.

And I see this as very cultural because some cultures don't pursue happiness like we do. Some individuals don't expect to be happy all the time, if at all. My friend was telling me about a line from the movie Beyond Rangoon (which I haven't seen), where the lead character (an American woman) is talking with a Burmese political official who tells her basically, "In Burma, we expect suffering. We're not shocked by it. We don't expect happiness." Some cultures are better at accepting suffering. My Iranian friend said that this is true of her culture and many other cultures. She said that this is reflected in media, in movies particularly. In the US, most movies have a happy ending. Not all, but a lot of them do. We want to see happy endings because we expect that for ourselves. But in other countries, movies are more tragic. They end with death and mourning and wailing, because that reflect their expectation from life. In the US, we are shocked by suffering and tragedy. We protest and cry out, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

I'm not saying that we should just lay down and accept suffering and not try to end it. We should be seeking to end injustice and cure cancer and AIDS. There is much needless suffering in the world, and we shouldn't just shrug our shoulders and be indifferent. But perhaps we should be more accepting of our own personal suffering. Perhaps I should be more accepting of personal suffering. By disposition, I'm a pretty optimistic person. I like being happy and I can easily find positives in many situations. When I'm unhappy, I just want to be happy again as soon as possible. I've found myself frequently unhappy this week, often without being able to do anything to change the circumstances that contributed to my unhappiness. I found that the times when I just accepted my unhappiness, when I just acknowledge, "Ok, I'm unhappy right now, and this sucks, and I want to be happy, but I'm never promised happiness, so I can be unhappy right now," were my most peaceful moments this past week.

And does this reflect the kind of outlook I should have as a Christian? Looking at the early church in the New Testament, the church seemed to expect suffering, but there was also much joy. Joy in fellowship with other believers, in pursuing a new way, in enjoying the blessing of the Spirit and salvation. But that joy went alongside the suffering of Christ, the suffering of following a narrow way.

Nothing I'm saying is new or revolutionary. This is all influenced by psychological theories I've read or studied, conversations I've had, or sermons I've heard preached. I'm just trying to examine myself more in light of these thoughts, trying to understand my cultural expectations for what my life should be like, and hold those in light of what could be more true.