Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dreaming Dreams

I was listening earlier to that wonderful source of intelligent humor, Garrison Keillor, making fun of graduation speakers, who often drone on endlessly.  And it caused me to begin wondering what I might say to graduates, were I to be a chosen speaker –since there is precious little chance of such an occurrence, my speculation is really more of a fun game than anything real.
And Garrison of course included, “I have a dream . . .” by MLK in his set. It caused me to think back to my own college graduation some 50+ years ago (I stopped counting at 50 a while back).  And I thought . . . really, I had no dream. Graduation was simply another day, much like all the others.  I had a wife, a baby on the way, and, importantly, I had a job. What more did anyone need? A dream??? That’s for others.  How would my life have been different had I a dream?
Dreams are a bit like life plans. Some folks have such plans; others, like me, don’t.
I went hunting for a job midway through my senior year.  Everyone did. The 1950s. Everything was booming and jobs were available. The aerospace industry was especially attractive for engineering graduates. The Cold War was a good thing for us.  I know, I know. How could a war, hot or cold be described as a “good thing?” Well, at the moment, nobody was dying in that war (Korea was finished for the moment, Vietnam had not yet begun.)  But, that “war” created thousands of jobs making things intended to kill lots of people, with the fond hope that, once produced, they would never be so used.  That was the deal—MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) was our last, best hope for mankind.
So, our jobs in that industry (high tech death machinery) were, in the final analysis, just jobs, like working in a supermarket, or Wall Street.  It involved no dreams.
Periodically, we engineers would get together socially, drink martini’s and discuss potential scenarios—like where should we go if the Cuban Missile Crisis got out of hand—the seacoast or the mountains, the issue being, where would we least likely get killed or maimed when they began shooting off all those weapons of mass destruction?? But we never really thought it would happen.
Then after a time, during which I began getting tired of the WMD industry, an opportunity came across my horizon, to quit what I was doing and move, as part of a team, to India.
To India????
And that’s what I was thinking. Huh?? Hey, why not?? And that’s what my wife said, when asked. “To India??? Why not?”
Now, that would never have been part of my dream, or my life plan. I simply would never have thought of such a thing . . . and that’s what’s wrong with a life plan, I thought.  Many dreams/life plans foreclose options by giving strong preference to things you think about in advance.  Real plans include goals, and a plausible path for reaching that goal.  But, it all depends on how you phrase the goals I assume. If you think, “hmmm . . . in 25 years I intend to be a partner in a law firm, or a high level officer in a technology company”, or something similar, you may in fact achieve that goal, but you may also foreclose several other optional courses that might have proven more exciting, or simply more interesting.
Alternatively, I think about people who entered school without anything in mind, but simply bumping along taking courses because they were fun, or interesting. They graduate and then what?
So, there should be some kind of life planning that is beneficial.
So, what to do, what to do?  I have always had one major objective—try to keep options open. Finishing high school (or worse yet dropping out) with no thought to college is to foreclose all options associated with college.  It is to limit oneself unnecessarily--it closes doors.  So, getting as much education as seems reasonable (and that almost always means going beyond high school) is always a good course, mainly because it opens more doors.
Then, when one moves into “real life” always being open to something new seems to me a good course. Never foreclose options without first at least trying to understand the options in front of you. That was our India decision. India was never in my dream set; it just happened, and we had open minds.
So, maybe that’s it.  Get educated to open as many doors as possible, and then keep on learning (read actual books). The world is very large, complex, and fascinating. There’s more to life than what can be seen in Spring Valley, New York.
Look around.  Stay open to new ideas.
Oh, and one more thing.
Stop watching the Fox News Channel. It closes the mind, and corrupts the brain.
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