October 3, 2011

It’s a long way up…or down, depending on how you look at it. Hua Shan Steps – via onua.com.ua

A mentor of mine announced today that he will soon be leaving (or mostly leaving) his post at the Ivory Tower in order to take a new position as a director of counselling-and-other-stuff. He said a few words about why this was so important to him. He said that we have places to put people who have struggled and failed and fallen on their faces and can’t seem to get back up again. We call those places “jail”, “hospitals”, and “mental wards”. We have very limited means to help people who have hit rock bottom but haven’t ended up in one of those places, and those means, like unemployment and disability benefits, are becoming scarcer all the time. What we don’t have enough of is ways to help people who are not yet at rock bottom, people who are scrabbling on those treacherous slopes. People who have lost their jobs, or their health insurance, or their homes, who are not desperately in need yet, but will be very soon. We need to help them so that they don’t fall all the way down, and have to climb all the way back up again. It is so much easier to give people a hand as they are starting to stumble than it is pick them up out of the mud and slog back up the mountainside.

He’s right, you know. I feel it all the time. I think that this is a great thing that he is doing. Of everyone I know, this is the man for the job. This is the guy who knows that platitudes aren’t the answer, and there is real work to be done in giving people tangible help, so that they don’t have to fall all the way down and climb all the way back up. I wish him all the best.

It’s a great thing for other reasons too. Here is someone who is leaving a successful academic career, by choice, to pursue a new and different dream, and he’s doing it with confidence and the full support of his community in academia. That’s not something you see every day, especially for someone on my rung of the career ladder. Choosing to leave, to do something other than this thing for which one has trained and toiled with monk-like devotion when it will no longer keep clothes on one’s back, is generally viewed as failure within the academy. Leaving by necessity, because there are no more upward moves to make, and increasingly fewer lateral moves either, is also somehow a “failure”. I don’t believe it, not on the rational side of my brain. But I’ve been here so long, that these are my people, and contemplating leaving is painful, even when there is no place for me to stay. And especially when “my people” don’t seem to understand that I can’t justify starving in order to remain. So it’s inspiring to see one of “my people” say, you know, you can do some good stuff over here too.


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