Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Utility of Jobs: Are Teaching and Writing Useful?

A picture of me in my inquisitive mood over coffee
Coffee Thoughts

When we are about to pick a career, we will probably ask ourselves some or all of the following questions: Will a job in this field pay the bills and perhaps help me save some extra money? Is it something I am good at and would I enjoy doing it for the rest of my life? Is it making the world a better or a worse place? Is it useful for and well-regarded by society?

Sometimes there might be a conflict between ideology (what you would like to do or what may contribute most to society) and financial or economic necessity. We may sacrifice the job we most enjoy for the sake of a job that may be our second or third choice, yet which ends up being safer economically speaking. This happens quite often since we all want to bring home the bacon and survive in this competitive world. So many would-be poets and philosophers fall victim to financial needs and necessities and never fulfill their latent talent and innate potential.

It is a shame that this should happen, and it is a luxury for the few who can effectively live off the gains of their chosen profession. Others, of course, choose so-called lucrative and generally desirable jobs, such as lawyers or doctors, and if they do so out of genuine love for the field and not because they are solely out for materialistic gain, those people can consider themselves extremely lucky in life.

I consider myself in this very category although my profession (teaching) is generally not as well-paid as it should be (well whose is really?) and despite being a close second on my list of careers (writing would be first, with directing movies being a very distant and improbable dream of mine).

My initial choice of writing goes all the way back to the innocence (euphemism for gullibility) of childhood. It was the need for creative self-expression coupled with the promise of fame and fortune. That was the dream. The reality is that all my income associated with writing so far may (at best) cover the annual expenses of pen and ink (yes, I am aware we are living in a technological age, hence see the irony / lack of income here?).

It is my second job that keeps me afloat, namely out of the reach of poverty and it provides (thank God) enough for my family and me. Teaching is also a passion of mine, and it is, in fact, not too difficult to build a bridge between the two fields. So the good news is that I can combine both teaching and writing in different ways as they are more cousins than strangers to each other.

However, the other day, in one of my more pensive and inquisitive moods, I was asking myself not about material aspects but about the utility of my profession. Certainly, I consider it being a necessary service to others; a kind of sharing what I know with those who would need or benefit from those particular skills and knowledge.

It is my hope and desire to transmit some of my passion, love and interest for this wondrous field by making students see the world and their lives differently via the lens of arts and humanities. It is indeed the most rewarding feeling to have students personally or via evaluations thank me for the help I have provided them. All of this validates me and my chosen profession, and I sincerely hope I can engage student and reader alike, or even better, perhaps infect them with this joie de vivre, this beauty of life in all its artful and colorful representations.

But, both feet firmly back in reality, is my profession really useful for society? Do you need teachers to learn a language these days or to analyze a text or to philosophize? I taught myself Spanish without ever paying for a single lesson. I used a host of books plus lived in a Spanish-speaking country to improve my language skills. My most productive analysis was done not under university pressure but on my own spare time. And my writing improved through continuous practice (some of it on this very same blog!) and not so much from my schooling, which, however, did get the ball rolling in certain ways.

So we can see that to a large degree learning can be done at the comfort of one's homes once you are equipped with a reasonably fast and reliable Internet connection. In fact, in our day and age, more and more people are becoming auto-didactic, teaching themselves the necessary skills via books and useful resources on the Internet. Are we teachers then as replaceable as cashiers in grocery stores? Can a computer do the same (God forbid an even better) job as we do?

In other words, how useful is teaching since I am not visibly constructing anything, no new buildings, no musical compositions, no observable lasting legacy? My writing is there visible and accessible, but if it lacks readership it becomes worthless.

What then would be examples of really useful jobs out there? Usefulness can be measured by how often and in what kind of situations we would contact or recur to a person from that particular field. This is a rather loose but somewhat useful (!) definition for our purposes here.

In times of medical emergency, who would you call? You would call a doctor or paramedic, of course. If you have a friend in that profession, she would be extremely useful. When doctors manage to treat or cure a child's illness, there is no limit to the feeling of gratitude. Doctors fulfill a need that is unparalleled in comparison to others, and we can easily add to the gamut of medicine, surgeons, pharmacists, nurses and so forth. Not to forget, dentists who can get rid of that nagging and throbbing toothache of yours.

Who do we call when we feel threatened? We would call the police. Again their appearance leading to the elimination of the threat will make us want to shower them with abundant feelings of gratitude. So if your friend or neighbor is a police officer, they will be the ones you would contact in such situations, or else it would be the 911 call for help. We can easily add firefighters to this list and again a big thank you to all of these people who risk their lives for our safety!

Who do you call when your toilet is overflowing or there is a flood in your basement? A plumber friend will be the one who can save you from a mess and a hefty bill. What do you do when your computer does not work? The computer expert friend will be contacted, and we will feel extremely obliged for their help. The lawyer friend will be contacted when you need immediate legal advice or if you are in a legal tight spot. Who do you call when there is a ghost in your fridge? Ghost-busters, of course, you catch my drift.

But when would you call a teacher? A grammatical question or spelling errors can be dealt with online or with the right handbook. A writer? Sure, he can help you write your application letter, but on the scale of usefulness, this is not that high or immediate. A philosopher? Never really. In terms of serious trouble, a psychologist or priest would be preferred over someone who would only sow doubts in your already troubled and muddled mind.

So my question is this: Is the trio of jobs above really useful? Do they contribute to society in significant ways? I am not sure. Maybe, or maybe not. But one thing I do take comfort in: At least I am not willingly causing harm to others as weapon or drug dealers do.

Put differently, my goal is to help people. And entertain them and give them something to smile and think about. Along the way, my writing and ideas may cause temporary confusion. So be it. Out of confusion comes clarity and out of chaos order. And if this post was not “useful,” please bear with me; I will try harder next time around, or else I will be forced to look for an actually useful pass-time.


Anonymous said...

Great blogs really inspired me ,and makes me think a lot after reading. I couldn't agree more with your view. However,I found teachers and writers have the ability of transferring their knowledge and thoughts into students/readers minds which could possibly change somebody's attitude towards his life within one single sentence. That's the beauty of having power of words and this part amazed me. It's true that I probably would not call my instructors when I am in trouble. But, I will not forget to whom taught me and prepared me to become "useful" in future.

(Btw I like your teaching method the best in the college , I did learn a lot.)

-by one of your students :)

Arashmania said...

Thank you for your kind words and, more importantly,for your beautiful thoughts.

Your comments validate me on so many levels. As an instructor, this is what I hope for in my students, to have been "useful" for their future. Words can be very powerful indeed, and my intent is to use them for good and for the benefit of others.

I am also impressed by the depth and critical thinking that you demonstrate here. Thank you so much for sharing this with me; it certainly made my day, if not week or month : )

Best wishes,