Sunday, November 03, 2013

What matters/what doesn't

I see a lot of people, including bloggers, posting about what they are thankful for this month.  It's a nice trend, especially since the web seems to encourage posting about things that annoy or frustrate you (and I am no exception to that).

My version of that this month is thinking a little more about what matters and what doesn't, in life as much as in academe, and how things that used to matter often just don't, now, and vice versa.

Things that used to matter a lot or provoke a reaction but don't now:

  • Whether women keep their own names or take their spouse's name after they get married. This seemed like a huge issue back in the day, with me getting into arguments that women should keep their own names.  Maybe it still is, but especially with the legalization of gay marriage (yay!), it seems wrong to declare that women must or ought to do X or Z about their names.  You ought to be able to declare your identity in any way that the law allows without getting a lot of lectures about it.  
  • Whether the acquaintance or family member you're talking to actually listens to what you're saying. It used to frustrate me tremendously when a family member or acquaintance would ask a question about my work, let me get 10 words into an explanation, and then break off to tell an anecdote of their own or exclaim over the cute tricks of a dog or baby.  Now it doesn't. Once you realize that the person doesn't actually care about your answer, it's much easier and less tiring to keep what passes for conversation going by asking them questions about themselves. 
  • Issues of citation and typography, m- dash versus n-dash, fonts, spacing, MLA versus Chicago style, and all that. I used to care about whether MLA was better than Chicago. Not any more. Tell me the style sheet and I 'll do what you want. I don't have to care about it to do it right. 
  • Whether a student is telling the truth when he says he couldn't do the assignment because his roommate's grandmother's dog died or whatever.  I'm not the Dean of Students, and I'm not going to track down excuses, the way I've seen, at the Chronicle, instructors talk about demanding obituary notices before excusing an absence.  The syllabus is designed to allow some flexibility and some absences, partly for their convenience and partly for mine, so that I don't have to be the Truth Police. 
Things that still matter a lot:
  • Plagiarism. Where that's concerned, I still am the Truth Police, and they get reported.
  • Insisting on respect. Respect doesn't mean being docile at all costs, but it's possible to disagree without getting into rudeness or snide behavior. If you don't agree, you sure don't want to be in my classroom, meeting, or conference session. 
  • Fairness. I've heard that preadolescents go through a phase of deciding whether things are fair and being outraged about unfairness; later, adults learn that life is unfair and they have to get on with it.  I don't think that any of us ever get beyond the fairness issue, even if we understand that life can be unfair, and we need to do what we can to alleviate unfairness when we can. This sounds trite (because it is), but it's still true. Even in a class setting, you can make something more transparent, distribute some benefit more equitably, or even the playing field by creating assignments that cater to different student strengths. 
What issues have you given up as "doesn't matter" and what ones are still important to you? 


Bardiac said...

I think the "actually listens" one is really important. It's about recognizing that a lot of people are being just polite enough to ask how you're doing, but they're not really that interested. Learning to accept the politeness as what it is, and not expecting more, that has helped me a lot.

undine said...

I think so too, bardiac. Lowering those expectations has helped a lot.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Doesn't matter: Attendance. I still take attendance because I'm kind of required to -- at least in my freshmen classes -- and it helps me learn people's names. But I couldn't really care less if people come to class. I think they are stupid if they don't, and I don't bend over backwards to help them catch up. But if they don't want to come to class, that's their funeral. It will have a massive impact on their grade, despite their attendance not actually being graded. They'll just miss a bunch of things and hang themselves in the process.

Matters: Trying. At the very least, I want people to stop whining about everything and at least try to do something. Trying is the most important thing to me. Not everything is possible, but EVERYTHING is impossible if you refuse to try it. And sometimes when you try something (whether it's reading, trying a new food, or going to a new place), you have amazing experiences. I wish people tried more stuff (academic and otherwise).

hush said...

No longer matters:
1) Not Voting - It used to piss me off when eligible voters did not always vote when they could have (like in places where it is easy to vote since ballots are mailed to voters' homes). (But having that choice actively taken from them say, by racist new voter ID laws, is another matter entirely and clearly I'm not referring to that at all.) Not voting when they could have does not automatically make someone a bad person.

2) Calculating around Reciprocation - it does not matter if someone does not invite you to their proverbial party despite the fact you invited them to theirs. Do you generally enjoy their company? Then that's a good enough reason to keep inviting them, and you can quit calculating.

Still matters:

1) Basic Politeness - say please and thank you. Say hello when someone joins your group. Go up and greet the host of the party, and thank them for having you. Send thank you notes where appropriate. Don't gossip (but sometimes it is too damn irresistible where poetic justice would be served - in that case, do it and possibly feel bad about it later). Don't talk about events in front of folks who aren't invited to said events. Don't speak ill of someone else's parenting or someone else's child's daycare or school - but you may judge your own. etc.

2) Getting a Good Education - the better school is often the better school. Sometimes not. Find out. Do the research, then figure out if it is a fit with your values. This is always a worthwhile endeavor, and I won't hesitate to pay for quality education. That said, you don't need to go to school for every hobby - sometimes you're better off just trying it on your own.

3) Trying - @Fie upon this quiet life! is absolutely correct. I can't stand folks who criticize ideas and habits they refuse to try. (Criticize after you've at least tried. Fine.) For example, most very smart people are pretty much unanimous on their recommendations to exercise and manage our time better - so if you are out of shape and always late you will sound like a fool if you criticize people who TRY those things as being "smug."

chacha1 said...

It used to matter a lot to me what other people thought about my life choices and, particularly, about my work. Now I couldn't care less. My quality of life has skyrocketed. :-)

Basically I just figured out that I am judged not by my proficiency but by how well I follow the rules.

What does matter: being kind, and leaving people and environments in a better state than I found them. It is satisfactory to me to clean up someone else's mess ... even though I may bitch about it. Leaving it clean matters more than making sure whoever made the mess cleans it up.

undine said...

Fie--totally agree about trying. I have no patience (and may at times show it) for people who won't make an effort and then criticize the result. I do care about attendance, though, sort of, for two reasons: (1) good class discussion in the size classes I have depends on being there, and (2) the ones who don't show up are always the ones who slam you on evaluations for not catering to their needs (for an A, for extra help that they never sought, etc.)

hush--absolutely, especially about the basic politeness. Some people don't understand how important it is or maybe have never been taught.

chacha1--not caring what other people think about your life choices, as long as you're happy with them and they're working for you, is the great liberating secret. And being kind.