Monday, May 7, 2012

Ivory Towers Need Ladders

When I think about all of the most important pursuits of my life (of which making music with Songs Become Water is definitely one) I find that they have been driven by two main impulses: the desire to ponder and analyze the great challenges of life (I'll call it the thinker impulse), and the desire to do something about them (the doer impulse).

I think that both of the impulses exist in us all. I imagine that for most people one impulse is more dominant than another. For me, pursuits that allow me to use both of those impulses equally are typically the most satisfying.

It was the thinker impulse that led me to pursue a degree in Spanish Language and Literature. I loved the exercise of analyzing, criticizing, and deconstructing texts and using them to debate the big existential questions. At one point, I had strongly considered getting a Ph.D in Spanish Literature.

However, many of the most powerful texts I studied were so harrowing that I decided eventually not to pursue a career in academia. It became clear to me that social and economic injustice were more than abstract literary themes. While the characters in those stories weren't real, their experiences were and those experiences were being lived by people who were suffering. Eventually, the doer impulse forced me to climb down from the ivory tower.

I now work for a nonprofit agency that provides programs to help people out of poverty. I love the work I do. I am now satisfying the doer impulse. But I can't (nor should I) prevent the thinker impulse from creeping in. It prompts me to ask important questions about the effectiveness of the work I'm doing. It invites me every so often to climb back atop the ivory tower to get a clearer view.


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