Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Getting Ahead in the World

What is the goal that most people have when they reach adulthood?  The main goal, even before they think about finding a mate or buying a car or a house, is making money.  Most people begin to think about what they will do in life to survive and have all the things that they desire to own.  This part of the decision making process leads them to the next...if I want to have all the things that I desire, then how will I get them?  Choosing a career that will open the doors to buying the things we want is a fundamental part of the process.

When I graduated from high school, I knew that I was going to college.  My father was a construction worker and I had watched him go out into the rain and the drizzle and the fog and the heat to do his job.  He went out early and came home late and most of the time came home really dirty and sweaty.  He had to take a shower as soon as he came home because of how grimy he was.  He endured the terribly hot Texas summers for many years.  One day he told me, "You had better get a good education or you will end up doing what I do for a living."  My dad was not ashamed of what he did to make a living for his family but he thought that his kids could do better than he had done because they had the advantage of educational opportunity that was not available when he was younger.  He had to quit school in the third grade because his family needed him to work on the farm to help raise food because the Great Depression had set in and the poor farmers in Titus County, Texas had to constantly farm in order to survive.  He and his brothers all helped out on the farm until finally the Civilian Conservation Corps came along and picked them up and took them to New Mexico to build state parks and roads and paid them 75 cents a day to work for them.  They sent home most of their earnings to help their family.

So, I knew I was going to college when I was in high school but I had no earthly idea what I wanted to do.  I loved language and learning and studying history and decided to be a history teacher.  I had a teacher named Mr. Puntes who had inspired me and I wanted to be like him in many ways.  I never even thought about how much money school teachers were paid.  I just knew I enjoyed learning about history and wanted to teach it.  I began my college career with a major in history but ran into the language requirement (four semesters of a foreign language in order to teach history in public school?) and soon changed my major to elementary education with a minor in history.  I took 24 hours of history instead of 36 hours but could teach more things meaning I would have more job opportunities.  So, I finished college and got my first teaching job and signed a contract to make the grand sum of $6000 a year for the first year.

I had a friend who graduated from the same college the same year but his major was environmental science.  His first job paid him $12,000 a year.  I learned as time went on that the value of what one did for a living was not based upon what one knew but the value was based upon how society valued that profession.  School teachers have been underpaid in this country and most likely in every country throughout modern history.  Perhaps there was a time in the ancient world when teachers such Greek philosophers were paid well but I imagine European teachers and in other countries have always been paid less than others in the working world.

I once saw a saying about teachers that said something like, "If you can read this, thank a teacher."  The truth of that saying is that everything one knows, one learned it from someone else who taught it.  Highly paid professionals in the health care world benefit from others who taught them their craft.  Even sports stars and those in the film industry learned from others so that they can do what they do.  We know what we know thanks to others who share their knowledge with us.

This week I will share a story from the Bible with my congregation that has Jesus lecturing his disciples about what it means to be the greatest person of all.  Jesus' definition of "great" does not match the definition that most people in today's world hold.  He said, "Whoever wants to first must be last of all and servant of all."  He then called a child to sit with him and said, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."  This was remarkable in the ancient world because children were considered to be nuisances and not really worth having around until they had achieved adulthood.  They were just mouths to be fed and trouble to be handled.  Jesus' welcome of children said that those who are the greatest are the ones who invite even the weakest and most troublesome into their presence.  Greatness is achieved, not by what you know, but by how you live among others in our world.

I am glad I was a school teacher for 15+ years.  I never made a huge amount of money but I learned a lot and shared a lot with others that I hope helped them.  Our lives are great when others can remember the kindness we showed them, the patience with which we listened to them, and the wisdom we shared with them.  "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" is a motto that was said in the teaching field many times when I worked in education.  I think it is a motto of life and living that is valuable regardless of what we do to make a living.

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