Investments

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Good morning from the diner,

Today will be a day of grading and preparing for the end of the semester and beyond. It is also a day to catch up on some household items. Finally, it is also the first Sunday and the beginning of the Advent season. In the liturgical year, it is actually my favorite time. Advent, like Lent, is a season of preparation. It is also considered a season of hope. Hope is an entirely different topic, one on which I could probably do an entire posting. Nevertheless, it is a season that provides both memories and, for me, a sense of goodness in a world that at times seems irreparably broken. It is that sense of goodness that offers at least a glimmer of hope. While I believe we should (and I try to) give to others throughout the year, again, at least we pay attention to the needs of others a bit more intentionally. While there are more than enough stories about why this time is stressful, particularly within families, it also seems that generally attempts to remediate issues might occur at this time (in spite of some of my own experiences to the contrary). It is a time when we actually think carefully about what we have done in the past year and how those events have continued to shape who we are or move us toward some growth we hope to accomplish.

Those events in the past year are an investment of sorts. They signify the things or people on or in which we believed there was value. The question is always whether or not the investment was wise or sound. Not really that different from one’s portfolio, one looks and tried to determine the performance of those investments and then decides to either continue that position or change it. However, there is a difference when you are analyzing things or people and stocks or bonds. Investing in things or inanimate objects is more about what one values or deems important. The item itself is the passive or non-acting agent, and yet, is considered to have value (i.e. a house, a college degree-the piece of paper, one’s electronic gadgets). Investments in people are a bit more tricky. As something not inanimate, people are neither passive nor inactive. While some might seem as such and others certainly not, the decision to invest time or energy into another person (i.e. a spouse, a student, a family member, a friend or acquaintance) always has an inherent risk. Who people seem to be and knowing who they actually are is an imperfect science at best. Likewise, time and experience changes people, but I think those changes are more drastic the younger the person is. I see that everyday when observing my students. The differences one sees between freshmen and seniors is beyond extreme. The difference one can experience from semester to semester or week to week can be much more dramatic than one might ever imagine. I have, again, witnessed this first hand, even in the past few days.

Last night I had two experiences that epitomize the extremes of what I am noting. A former, and now graduating student, and her father came over for dinner last night. It was the first time I have met the father, but I was referred to as the “God-parent” (Bóg-rodzic). That was a compliment and it has been fun to watch Marysia grow over the years. I have been invited to travel to Poland and spend the New Year’s holiday with them. I am excited because it will be my first trip to Eastern Europe. On the other hand, I have tried to understand the philosophy of another and it is apparent that it is not as much a philosophy as it is simple selfishness. As I noted in a previous blog, I have to learn to see things for what they are and quit making excuses for others. I had the opportunity to speak with another last evening, a person I have helped with school issues and with housing. Their attempt to make it on their own is admirable, even though there are stumbles. It was insightful to read and observe their behaviors and listen carefully to what was said. The wisdom that I observed in that conversation was quite astounding. I know the importance of the investment I have made in the other, but that investment needs to be reconsidered not from what I get, but rather from what it has taught me about myself. I think that is the difference between investing in things that are passive or inanimate and things that are active or not inanimate. When we invest in the inanimate, the consequence is much more understandable, perhaps predictable. People, on the other hand, are seldom understandable and so we cannot see what we might receive from them as the investment. What I am sure of lately if we could only evaluate on what we might receive from the other, I would be bankrupt. What I believe we must see in our investment in others is what we learn about ourselves and how we might better ourselves from those experiences. It is similar in my teaching. While I invest a great deal of time, I cannot make a student learn; I cannot make him or her want to succeed. What I must realize is my investment is in my profession and in my own learning to do what I do better.

As we head into the last week of classes, I know it is a stressful time. Some people manage stress well and others (as I have watched this entire semester) do not. I am not consistent with how I manage stress if I am going to be honest. Sometimes I can take it in stride and manage quite well. Other times it can almost paralyze me. I think about some of the moments I had last spring as I tried to manage things here and in Wisconsin and it was overwhelming to me. I must say, in spite of some things I am currently trying to navigate this semester, I am doing pretty well. I did have another fever last night (or early morning), but they are certainly not as frequent as they were last summer. I also know it is much less stressful having come to the conclusion I have during the break and what I need to do during the next semester. I had a chat with one of the people I visited over the break and there was a question about why I feel the need to publish or move forward in my rankings. It was a fair question from the perspective of not being in the position of needing to publish, teach, or serve. It was a fair question to ask if that ranking was merely about salary. My desiring to publish and to advance is about demonstrating expertise in my field and demonstrating that what I do in my classroom has substance and credibility. I am not upset with the questions, particularly when the questions were asked out of concern for me in a bigger picture. It is nice to have someone who is contemporary ask questions. I must admit the questions and concerns are genuine and the treatment has always been respectful. I guess that is what being 50-something will do versus being 20-something. I see late-teens and 20-somethings everyday because of my job, and even if one seems older at times, he or she is still only 20 and their narcissistic behaviors are much more likely to be intact and functional than later in life. I think the difficulty is their feeble attempts to justify their behaviors, but again that is an issue of maturity. It is not the first time I have had to face that reality though this time might be a bit more difficult to swallow than other previous experiences. Again, this is where I have to come to terms with my understanding of what I hope to get or receive as an investment. If my investment is dependent on another person’s behavior than the investment is flawed or, at the very least, pretty damn risky. If I consider what I have invested as something merely meant to benefit the other and not myself – if I can be more unconditional in my expectations – then I cannot lose. Unfortunately, I expected something better and that is my own mistake. Some of that expectation was based on experience, but the experience has certainly changed and I think the true nature has become rather clear. That is not the fault of the other, it is my fault for believing that there was a capability to do what seems to be reasonable or honorable. I also understand that I am imposing my standard of reasonable or honorable, but I have come to those understandings based on almost 60 years of life and a lot more experience than many. It would be nice if things were free or we were as free to do as we’d like, but that is a misguided notion. It is merely a choice to act that way. However, I must remember my own phrase, one I once wrote: “prepare to pay”. Again, the cost of the investment has been high, but it was my decision to take the chance. While I probably did not see it as much of a chance as it has turned out to be, any time you put energy or care, love or commitment into another person on any level, it is taking a chance. I cannot blame anyone for my decisions and/or my stupidity in this case. Much as I had the choice to invest, I have the ability to divest. While it takes a lot for me to walk away, I am capable of doing so.

Yet, if I see it as only as a misguided decision or simple stupidity, then every good thing I have done would have been undertaken foolishly or somewhat idealistic. Ultimately, that is not how I see it. Giving of one’s self, of one’s time, of one’s dedication, and love to another is never to be considered foolish or wasted. I do not regret what I have done and for the help I have given, even when needed without their realizing it or unappreciated. I feel pretty decent. I took some chances and I learned. That is the investment. It is the learning. It is standing back and considering all the data and then realizing the true nature of someone. What is significantly more important is the learning I did about myself and how that might help me in the future. I know that I could have been a pretty reasonable parent. I know that I can see bigger picture and I also know my frailties when dealing with someone for whom I care deeply. All of those lessons have been valuable and will help me as I move on and forward. Finally, it is good to invest both in things and in people. If we do not do so, I believe we live a life devoid of hope, devoid of promise, devoid of possibilities. While I am learning that we only have some much time, that is the reality we all live with. Sometimes we are more cognizant of that limitation.

It is the season of Advent, a time for preparation and I am preparing to move on. I have learned in life that there is no constant and as I was reminded the other night when speaking with my 50+ contemporary, I only have so much life left. This Advent will be a special Advent for me and I do want it to be a season of hope and I am hopeful because I have learned so much. It is a season of caring and for the care I have given, I know that I have been true to my nature and to what my grandmother demonstrated in her life. For a season of possibilities and for Cassey and Becca, this will be an amazing week. For Brittany and Maria, it is your last week as an undergraduate student. You have grown so much since that first summer class. I am still grateful to all four of you because I still have some surrogate kids. Last week I received a wonderful email about what I do in class . . . the student ended with the following words: “Thank you for pushing me to be the best I could be, for showing me that I am far more capable than what (sic)I ever imagined. Thank you for making an impact on my life and my educational career. It was truly a blessing to be a part of your class, and experience I will never forget. I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and pray that you continue to change other students’ lives like you’ve changed mine.” While I am touched and humbled by this, it too provides hope. There is a hope that after time, the investments made in any situation might be considered or realized as efficacious for both. Of course, there is no guarantee of that, and it is certainly not wise to need that response. I have learned that to about the 10th power or exponentially.

Yet the chance it might happen is at least one reason I have invested in students; that is why I invest in people in general. It is my sincere hope that what I offer, or give, or provide makes their lives better. When it does, I have invested wisely because it makes my life better.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

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