Warning: graphic material follows.
In Divinity school, a typical weekly assignment would be reading several texts (both ancient and modern) and writing up a two page perspective on how the readings, their ideas, their contentions interacted with one another. Years later, I find myself doing the same thing, but now with Twitter links to articles, blog posts, LinkedIn posts, and my own reading pile.
In a strongly worded LinkedIn post to Millenials, an author severely admonished students to not bother with Gender Studies – you can’t get a job with that degree. And in the Guardian, I read, to my great horror, that in the Last Tango in Paris, Director Bertolucci and Marlon Brando conspired to and did rape Maria Schneider with a stick of butter to get the reaction of a girl, not an actress. In subsequent interviews, the director confirmed he did not regret his decision. In short, even in 1972, her body was not her own.
In a completely different read, Madeleine Albright wrote in The Mighty and The Almighty that the Carter administration was caught completely off guard by the religious backlash in Iran. Islam was thought to be waning. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union vastly “undervalued the importance of religion.” Seriously undervalued.
I do not know if there was such a thing as religious studies or the study of religion in international politics. Had there been, different decisions might have been made that averted decades of hostility, human rights abuse, and the degradation of women’s rights.
My sole intention in college was to graduate and get a job. That is, until, my anthropology professor put the idea of Sustainable Development in my head thus launching a life-long pursuit. Where I once thought, no believed, that one should only pursue the practical, I now see myself as the beneficiary of the impractical – people who preceded me paved a wide road of liberty, safety, awareness, opportunity, education, and personhood.
Humanity arrived at these ideas because people thought and argued and wrote. I love being an engineer, but the aforementioned list is not a list of engineering terms. Those abstract terms argue for the best of humanity. It is the impractical studies which give us the language to describe humanity: gender studies, world religions, anthropology, sociology, philosophy.
If we are to remain human, we have the difficult task of describing the best possible version of ourselves. Harder still, we need to live out that understanding. Impossibly, we need to care for and love those who cannot or will not love those around them.
As the human density on this planet continues to increase, we have an increasing responsibility to act on behalf of humans less described. I’m not talking about government intervention, although there is that. I mean neighbor to neighbor, community to community. I mean awareness. I mean volunteering. I mean language.