Bussey NEW Newsletter Don't Miss the Game Changers by Bill Bussey, Provost
I was reading the New York Times (Saturday, April 23rd) in a Starbuck’s the other day and came across a front page story about a doctor who had practiced family medicine for 32 years and couldn’t give his practice away. The article stated that “doctors like him are increasingly being replaced by teams of rotating doctors and nurses who do not know their patients as well. A centuries-old intimacy between doctor and patient is being lost, and patients who visit the doctor are often kept guessing about who will appear in the white coat.” A few days later in the very same shop I witnessed a customer berating the teenage employee running the register. The customer, loud and agitated, wanted to know in no uncertain terms how much longer “that sound” would continue. After a few back and forths, it became clear that the offensive sound was the coffee grinder, grinding coffee. Everyone stared at their shoes as the customer made it clear in no uncertain terms that “the sound” was getting in the way of his conversation. It was like someone on top of Everest expressing disdain for the howling wind.
On one hand, many of us have come to expect getting what we want as quickly as possible, but at the same time we still value the meaningful connections and relationships that will stand the test of time. Yet, these days time itself seems to be in short supply and with it often goes patience, perspective, and the ability to roll with the punches. In a society in which the various lists, scores and ratings increasingly (and inexplicably) gain credibility as standard bearers for leadership, status and success, I cannot help but wonder if many of our children will allow realistic expectations and meaningful relationships for their own children to go the way of quilting bees and barn raisings. Look at the current tone of our national discourse and tell me that reason and relationships seem like valued qualities.
More importantly, in the age of the specialist, we cannot allow ourselves or our children to believe that certain classes, activities, and relationships are by themselves a means to an end. We also must never allow ourselves or our children to create a world within this relationship-based community in which we quietly reduce the many benefits of this vibrant institution to self-serving categories of what really counts. If your children believe that the holy grail for self-worth is simply where they end up attending college and that they in turn limit themselves to whom and what they perceive are the people, courses or activities that will make it all happen, they will run the risk, among many things, of failing to recognize those small moments in life that are often true game changers.
I have long forgotten the name of the college instructor whose class influenced me more than others. He was a heavy-set graduate student, an anonymous sort of guy with black hair and glasses, and only a few years older than I was, In order to earn his keep, he was saddled with teaching a freshman expository writing class. Some thought he was a grind and a bit of a dandy, but he hooked me into the world of John Simon and Pauline Kael, among many others, and gave me the opportunity to explore things on paper that truly interested me. He also taught me to learn from those around me instead of being resentful or intimidated by those who could truly write well. On the last day of class he stood in front of us and orally doled out our final grades. He gave me an A- and then paused and looked at me and said, “I think you’ve got something.” That was it.
There might have been a lot things folks thought this guy wasn’t, but for me he was the right guy, with the right words at the right time, and that made all the difference.