Thursday, August 5, 2010

People don’t want to know how to live a responsible, accountable, mature life—and they don’t care

In my more than thirty years of college teaching, one underlying philosophy has guided both my teaching and writing.  That philosophy is that people want to improve their lives—communicate better, of course, but do better, act with higher quality, strive harder, and live a more valuable, desirable, and suitable life.  It was this philosophy that made me want to enter the classroom, accept the opportunity to write a textbook, choose to lecture, advise and counsel students, and go above and beyond what was expected of me as a professional. 

There were times that I became skeptical that the philosophy was wrong.  For example, I met people who were only willing to give half-an-effort to a project, I would serve on a committee only to find that I was the only one willing to work, or I encountered students taking courses for a “pass” instead of a grade so they only had to exert a minimal amount of time and effort.  When I was a student I (tongue-in-cheek) celebrated those around me who chose not to give their “all” with a flippant remark: “Well, that’s one more person with whom I don’t have to compete.”  Because their philosophy wasn’t my own (and there were always more of them than people like myself), I always assumed that I was the exception, not them. 

As a teacher I made a vow with myself that I would not let those students who did not want to commit themselves to my courses drag me or my standards down.  I chose, instead, to direct my attention and focus to those who wanted to excel.  If you want to be outstanding, then I am here to help you; if you want to be mediocre or “just average,” then you will need to find a way to help yourself. 

This approach to education—attend to and focus on those who want to excel—faced a great deal of student complaint and criticism when I directed a basic, required, speech-communication class.  Why?  Because many students believed that a basic, required, speech-communication course should—by both its definition and nature—be a “blow off,” “Mickey Mouse,” easy grade.  In the course, they found a director (me!) who had high standards supported by a number of exercises, activities, and assignments that not just required work, but were evaluated by well-designed, stringent, detailed, and explicitly explained criteria.  Students, in all cases, knew exactly the criteria they would be evaluated on before undertaking any activity. 

Now, underlying or buttressing my approach to the basic speech-communication course was a belief that effective communication would help students improve their lives.  If they took the course seriously, there was a good chance that they would find benefits in all their thoughts and actions—as well as in their other classes, in their daily interactions with others, in their relationships, in any job they pursued, and, obviously, in their communication-related activities (i.e., small-group discussions and public speaking). 

Despite the way I conducted my courses, and despite the basic philosophies I believed in that guided my behavior, I may have over estimated my audience.  How did I arrive at this conclusion?  I discovered it when reading a book, The Healthy Guide to Unhealthy Living: How to Survive Your Bad Habits  (Simon & Schuster, 2006), by Dr. David J. Clayton.  Clayton is a medical doctor who is a graduate of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.  He has an undergraduate degree in chemical biology with honors from Stevens Institute of Technology.  He trained in internal medicine at Boston University and the Scripps Clinic and Research Institute in La Jolla, California. 

Clayton begins the introduction to his book with this comment: “Despite all the self-help books out there on living a healthy life, many of my patients don’t want to know how to live a healthy life—they want to know how to live their unhealthy lives better.”  In the very next paragraph he writes, “They don’t want to stop drinking, smoking, doing drugs, or having casual sex with the other sleep-deprived professionals they meet at parties.  They want to know how to do these things without killing themselves or permanently damaging their health.  They want to know how to lose weight fast for a wedding, or whether a drug test will show last week’s joint.  They want to know how to stay awake at the office when they haven’t slept well the night before (p. 1).” 

Using an analogy to Clayton’s conclusion, it may be that students don’t want to be more effective communicators.  Maybe they don’t even want to be better educated.  Maybe they simply want a college degree, and they are willing to do what is necessary to acquire the degree.  “Put up the requirement—the hurdle—and we’ll find a way to deal with it,” some students may be saying.    It is similar to those who take courses “pass” so they can complete them with minimum time and effort.  Perhaps college itself has become like those courses taken for a “pass”—what is the fastest, easiest, and most task efficient way I can get a degree and get on with my life? 

I think Clayton has defined a problem that explains a number of different problems.  For example, cheating and dishonesty may occur because all those who cheat and reveal dishonesty see is the final outcome, and the end justifies the means.  It may explain obesity and other hedonistic pleasures: “You do what feels good, and you deal with extraordinary circumstances as they occur.”  It may explain, too, ignorance.  Being informed takes time and effort—pursuing ideas in any kind of organized, systematic, rigorous fashion is an excessive and inordinate demand.  “I’d rather be ignorant,” people say, “because knowing means responsibility.” 

Clayton could just as easily have started his book saying, “People don’t want to know how to live a responsible, accountable, mature life.”  Most people believe as they do because their parents believed that way, and it requires no thinking on their own to change or deviate.  Most people don’t think beyond the obvious because it requires energy, and they have never been trained to really think.  Most people watch the no-brainer, lackluster, uninspired, dull, and unimaginative entertainment provided on television or the big screen because of their own slovenly inertia.  They become immersed in video games, text messaging, chat rooms, e-mail messaging, Internet surfing and other mindless pursuits to fill their boring, nothing lives.  People don’t want to know how to live a responsible, accountable, mature life—and they don’t care. 


“Breaking Bad Habits: Do You Really Want Change?” is an essay by Christopher George at the website   His opening paragraph reads like this: “As a hypnotherapist, I work with many people trying to break a habit that they've had for years and some, even decades. As I tell my clients during the first session - in order to change a habit, you first must understand it.”  George discusses two specific steps that must be completed to acquire permanent change

 Oh, I know this website, choicesforteens , is especially designed for teenagers, but the essay, “Why some people can’t break bad habits,” is not only short, but it gets right to the point.  A fast, quick (but solid) read. 


Copyright August, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.


1 comment:

  1. Maximillion Ryan IIIAugust 9, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    So sad but I'm afraid so true.


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