Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation. Today’s twist: include an element of foreshadowing in the beginning of your post.
I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
– Ernest Hemingway
Sometimes you don’t know where you’re going to end up. You could be going to college to study culture and linguistics but end up a teacher. You could practice martial arts but never intend to hurt anyone. We are told that we need to have a plan in life, to have some idea of where we are going. What do you want to be, what do you want to do? Doctor, teacher, ballerina, astronaut– video game tester. Author. We are asked when we are young what we plan on becoming, but we have no idea what or where we will be twenty or thirty years later.
We grow up being acculturated by the society that we live in. Even a beginning anthropologist could tell you that. In America, we live the culture of the Nacirema. We go to school year after year, first with it being paid for by the government, and then us paying the school. Most people don’t want to go while it’s free to them. Some end up paying to go and still not particularly wanting to be there. These days, competitive mothers pay to have their children in school before the free school even begins. I was lucky and for the most part liked school (if at anytime I didn’t like it, it was the drama and the rude people, not the learning that I objected to). I made sure to never quit college, even when I changed my major. I had to make something of myself.
That’s the big thing in our culture: making something of yourself. In some ways, that’s just a glorified way of saying, “get a job and make money. Maybe be popular, but at least work hard and make your boss like you.” Jaded, maybe, but how else do you get millions of young people to comply? I went along with it, because hey, I want to make decent money and have my own home. I wanted to do the right thing. I didn’t want to be destitute and work fast food forever.
Off to college I went, and there I worked hard to figure the world out. I didn’t want to just do the same as everyone else, and it didn’t want to job get ready for a job. No time to party, I had a world that I wanted to understand. I was done being sheltered and only being given select tidbits of information. I was part of a whole planet, for goodness sakes! Why serve only one country? Why only understand just part of a country that was so widely criticized?
Of course my path was not all that direct. Serendipity does not usually tread the well-beaten path, and for a while my life seemed more like a mess than anything else. I went from university to community college and from there my curiosity signed me up for a class or two in anthropology. It was the best thing I could have done, intellectually.
“Go and watch ‘At Play in the Fields of the Lord,'” I was told. There were stories about priests in distant lands and the understanding that it doesn’t matter what you call the spiritual; it’s still there, it still gives us something to believe in. Ask before you take pictures. The Nacirema. “Bowling for Columbine.” Fond memories, but also things that shaped me and my view of the world (which continued to grow and develop, mind you).
‘At Play in the Fields of the Lord‘ (yes, it’s based on a book) was a pretty fascinating movie. I’m not sure I would say it was cathartic, but It was still important. One thing that I took from it from was this: imagine that you start off doing something with great purpose. You think you’ve got it all figured out, but not quite. Other people don’t agree. Eventually you just have to let go, be free, be yourself. Your validity as a human is not based on the success of the work you do. Just do the work that you think is important, that is meaningful to you. Enjoy living, enjoy helping others, enjoy doing good (but not just your definition of good). Eventually you’ll figure out how to free your spirit, and what it means to be at play in the fields of the lord. You don’t even have to be religious for it to have meaning; I know I’m not.
I continued to study anthropology and to excel at it. Nobody pays you to love culture, though, so I found another career to get money, but I still like to observe how people live. A big part of anthropology has been learning to not judge. I’m still learning that, with some help from my practice in compassion. Anthropology has been integral to helping me be good at my chosen career, and as a writer. I can’t imagine how people get by without a deep understanding of culture, language and human nature.