If I Knew Then ...
Of course the incredible part is that I did! I did know then. At least I should have known then, but I, apparently, wasn't paying much attention.
I guess I was too busy trying to earn my degree, and I didn't have enough time to actually learn what I was being taught.
For example, I wrote this essay in 1989:
Taoism is an interesting concept. It would, however, be difficult to practice in today's society, because Americans (and most of the Western "civilized" citizens) have become so materialistic.
When I think about it, it reminds me a little of an essay called "Walden" in which the author tried to go "back to nature." He learned to live without money or luxuries, and he lived that way for a year.
This type of experiement has been tried many times since then, but none of the colonies have been too successful. Taoism is unrealistic in a Christian society, because as Christians we are told to work hard, and we will receive rewards. Rewards to us encompass all of the worldly goods we accumulate over time. In addition, doing nothing could be viewed as laziness or sloth, which is a sin.
Another reason Taoism couldn't work in Western civilization is that we are brought up to believe that having money is synonymous with success. If we aren't trying to earn "lots" of money, then we aren't fulfilling our obligation to society. Young children are bombarded with the messages of the importance of money. They see successful people on television who seem so happy, and they see their parents evidently working toward the happiness of money.
Thus, Americans are too materialistic for Taoism.
The essay was in response to a test question in my World Religions class. That was the semester I was also student teaching, and I worked on the weekends ... and I have mentioned before that I was married and had two children while I was in college? That whole semester is a blur. I'm surprised I even passed the class.
When I was decluttering, I found a lot of the work I had done, some tests I had taken, some essays, like the one above. And reading through them was like reading someone else's words. Did I really write those things? Did I really come up with those ideas? Did that stuff really come out of my head? Because if it did, it came all out of my head and landed on that paper and that's where it stayed. Very little of it is still inside my brain. None of it stuck.
Or maybe some of it did. Some of it stuck, because here I am, trying to change my life to be more like Thoreau (at the time I wrote this essay, I had read parts of Walden, but I couldn't even remember who had written it ;), to be more austere. To be more Taoist.
What's even more interesting than my essay quoted above, however, is what my professor wrote: Right - so were the ancient Chinese! (materialistic, he means, like "modern" Americans) But there are always the Beats, the drop-outs, the rebels, the Jesuses (as opposed to the "Christians") who are not too materialistic. A really funny bunch, inevitably!
I think the irony is that when I wrote this essay I was trying really hard, working really hard, to BE the "average" American. The essay makes me sound almost like I thought materialism was a bad thing. I'm pretty positive I didn't.
And now, here I am, one of rebels, the drop-outs. Ironic, I think, this flip-flopping. When I was young (and poor) and could be idealistic and live a more austere life, I wanted what everyone else wanted, and now that I can have the life I was working so hard to achieve back then, I don't want it.
Hmm? I wonder what that says about my personality.
Speaking of personality, another very interesting piece of paper I found was the results for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test I took on October 10, 1988. Twenty years ago, I was classified as an ENTP. Recently, I took the same test and was typed as an INFJ. Back then, I could easily have gone either way between being an "S" (sensing) and an "N" (iNtuiting). I was also very close between "T" (thinking) and "F" (feeling), but I was very clearly Extroverted (E) and Perceiving (P).
Deus Ex Machina is an INTJ. He says he's had a lot of influence on me. That's likely. It's also very likely that a great many experiences I've had since 1988 have changed my worldview.
It's interesting to consider what might have changed so much in my little brain to flip me from "Extroverted" to "Introverted" and from "Perceiving" to "Judging." I'll never know what switches were flipped and why I think so differently now.
I guess the lesson in all of this is that there is hope. I used to think that people didn't change, and I wasn't alone in that thinking. Dr. Phil maintains that the best indicator of a person's future actions is what he's done in the past.
I can, now, completely disagree with him. My reaction to my world today as an INFJ will be very different to my reactions to the world as an ENTP.
Two years ago (2010 note: has it really been that long?) I wrote that the answer to the disasters facing us regarding climate change was Peak Oil. I still believe that. When we no longer have cheap fuel options, we WILL learn to do without it, because it won't be an option. I think we'll learn to do without a lot of stuff, like I'm learning to do without my dryer, and I'm learning to do without Kotex brand anything, and I've already learned to do without California-grown avacado and South American-grown seedless grapes.
To me, the lesson is, given the right motivation, a person can (and will) change. I did. I've changed a lot - a whole personality type, and more, a whole philosophy of life, a whole belief system.
2010 note: Times have continued to change since I first wrote this essay more than two years ago, and despite the news reports, the Recession isn't really over. They've been saying the Recession (that they say started in 2007, but which they didn't admit to until mid-2008) ended in 2009, and yet, things continue to get worse, not better. In fact, there was an article in our weekly, community-based, "free" paper about a local food pantry, and how they've really seen an influx of "customers." In fact, the article interviewed several service organizations and the news was the same - more people needing more and more help. Perhaps the numbers in some industries actually are better, but only because of massive infusions of federal cash. When the stimulus money runs out, I'm afraid we'll be in big trouble.
Deus Ex Machina and I have changed a lot over the past couple of years. What we did two years ago is different than what we'd do today. As Dylan observed so many decades ago, times, they are a-changin', and we can swim or we can sink. Deus Ex Machina and I have made these changes willingly in response to what we saw. We saw the rising waters and chose to swim.
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'. Bob Dylan