President's Monthly Reports
Driving In Ireland
As part of my In-Service talk, I used the experience of driving in Ireland to draw attention to something I value – and want to grow – here at LBCC. Here’s a written version of that message.
I have to admit that I approached the prospect of driving on the “wrong” side of the road with a bit of trepidation, faintly remembering some less-than-stellar vehicular maneuvers while attempting to drive in London about 30 years ago. But, with some initial “learning experiences” behind me – some right hand turns that inexplicably put me back on the right (not correct!) side of the road, an attempted U-turn that looked more like a figure 8, and then adapting to shifting the 5-speed transmission with my left hand instead of my right - I actually began to enjoy it. REALLY enjoy it! The roads were so very narrow and winding, and measuring speed in Kilometers instead of Miles per hour added to the sense of going fast….. faster than you could imagine as the shrubbery (or a stone wall!) on the left and the oncoming traffic on the right were both less than a couple of feet from the sides of my car. Intense!
But, as I was driving down the left side of a two way road that was just barely wider than a single lane back home, and doing so at 100 kilometers per hour while oncoming traffic was doing the same, I came to a realization……. My safety was dependent not so much on my own driving skills as it was on the skills (and intentions) of the 100’s of drivers around me and heading toward me. This is not something I would be terribly aware of in the rather monotonous driving environment we have created for ourselves in the U.S. But here in Ireland, where the roads demand every bit of your attention – even for the locals (no one thinks of texting while driving here in Ireland…… no one’s that crazy!) – I was acutely aware of my dependency on those around me.
This awareness of our “dependency” is something that our capitalistic, competitive, hyper-individualistic culture here in the USA has a tendency to breed out of us and it seems to me that every time I’m outside the U.S. and experiencing something else, I see the tragedy of this loss all over again. The contrast that these foreign travels present to my culture of origin makes me acutely aware of a dependency – the “necessary-ness” – that I long for……. and for which I now believe we were made.
In Steve Martin’s classic film, The Jerk, there is this ironic parody of our fear of “necessary-ness” to each other that I will never forget. Navin Johnson (played by Steve Martin) has decided to leave his girlfriend/lover (played by Bernadette Peters) and, as he is about to go out the door he says:
“Well I’m gonna to go then. And I don’t need any of this. I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you. I don’t need anything except this. And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote . . . “
What do we really need from each other, and who do we need to be to each other? What do we need to give, and receive, and share? Is it more than an “ashtray”? More than someone to safely share the road with? Sebastian Junger, in his new book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, writes "Humans don't mind hardship. In fact, they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. [And] Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary."
At LBCC, I feel the foundations for something better. Yes, we still have work to do in communicating and learning to live in this sense of being necessary to each other, and we need to continually work to extend this to our students and our communities as well. But, as I am back at LBCC and starting this new year among fellow teachers and learners, I am confident that we are ahead of the game, that we are learning to rest in the mutual dependency that makes our Mission possible. And I am so proud and so grateful to be a part of this!