Sunday, July 24, 2011

Where Do Idealists Get Jobs?

This is not a question regarding the current job market in the United States. There are several careers I can think of that require a certain idealism in order to choose them. Teaching, medicine (nursing in particular,) law enforcement, possibly political office. I know people in all of these careers, and after a certain number of years, each of them seem to lose at least some of the idealism, the desire to help others, that drew them to their career choices. There are others, myself included, who are generally idealistic, and try to always see the best in people, who just wind up having 'jobs' because there is no place for us to fit in with our idealistic natures.

In a conversation with a young friend, whose younger brother just graduated from high school, she told me that he is pursuing a degree in education, and that he hopes to teach in the inner city. He's done some volunteer work in that arena in Los Angeles, CA, and he absolutely loved it. I wonder where he will be twenty years from now, when he has seen just how many of those inner city children he will be able to 'save,' and how he will be the one blamed for their failures? The discussions being held in this country lately over what is wrong with our educational system, and why are children lag behind, is very telling. It seems that everyone, particularly legislators, want to blame teachers and teachers unions for our failures. Occasionally the home life, and participation of the parents is mentioned, but no one brings up the culture we live in. Who are the media heroes? Does our culture celebrate learning? Are the students who are motivated to learn encouraged and nurtured, or are they bullied by fellow students, and ignored by over-burdened teachers who must spend more time trying to keep peace from students with behavior or learning difficulties in their overcrowded classrooms? When they go home, are their heads filled with unchallenging programming on television and iPads? How any teacher can keep his or her ideals alive for an entire career would be beyond anyone's logic.

I'm close to some police officers and others who work for the police in civilian roles. It takes very little time for them to begin to see everyone they meet as suspicious. They spend their days immersed in the worst of what our society brings, and it colors their perceptions. Police officers take a pledge to "serve and protect," which takes a certain ideal of making a difference in society by removing crime so that the law abiding citizen can live freely. But their administrators are sometimes corrupt, they must become friendly and look the other way for some smaller crimes in order to get information on larger crimes, sometimes the people they've pledged to protect dislike them because THEY know someone who has been arrested, and on and on. Police officers traditionally hate the departments appointed to investigate crimes committed within their own ranks. Why? Because sometimes, after seeing how many criminals get away with it, and become rich doing it, and looking at how little they make for the amount of risk involved in their jobs, some policemen become corrupt, and rationalize doing so. Therefore they take the position that they should not be prosecuted if they 'take a little' off the top. How can one keep their idealism in such an unappreciated job. The corruption of the New York City police at the turn of the 20th century was a well known "wink, wink" fact. Police were typically paid for protection by organized criminals on a regular basis. But the city paid them almost nothing, and they were still expected, exactly as today, to put their lives on the line for the people. While police corruption can never be condoned, there were those who understood why police officers would be tempted to take bribes to supplement their paltry incomes.

One place one should be able to believe they can make a difference in the world around them is in politics. There was a time when I thought this would be my place to make a difference. But I have yet to see a single person in politics get elected and not soon be overcome by the amount of money it takes to win, which cannot come from "the people," because the people just don't have enough of it. Barak Obama probably came closer than anyone else during his 2008 election by taking so many very small donations from people online. But even he has taken money from corporations, and proven that the big donors, not the small ones, have more power over what is legislated. An example of this would be the deal he gave to the giant pharmaceutical companies before he even started negotiating his health care reform act. Politics is ugly-it always has been. I've seen some ads that were printed during campaigns in this country during the seventeenth century, and they were even worse than now in the names they called each other. At least now the mud is slung in real time-back then it took days for the ads to go out, and longer for them to be responded to, by which time the damage was often done. Newspapers were owned by business owners, not by idealistic journalists; they could say pretty much whatever they wanted without any challenge from other media sources, or "" So it isn't worse now with regard to mudslinging, but it is WAY worse with regard to the money involved. There will be no way to fix it as long as candidates have to raise more and more money to run for office, and as long as they owe favors to the ones who give them the big bucks.

Helping people by providing medical care ought to be a no-brainer. But after dealing with patients who are demanding when not really sick, patients who come to the doctor to feed addictions, insurance companies who stop real health care delivery, it is easy to see how the nurses and doctors in my orbit all over the country could develop a cynicism about the careers they chose in order to heal. Some of the stories I hear from friends who do home health care just rip at my gut. Some of the behavior of families I've seen who have very sick, disabled family members, does the same thing. I wonder sometimes when we stopped caring about our fellow man, and even more about our families.

In a previous blog I talked about how important a free press was to the learned gentlemen who wrote our constitution. But now the journalists are celebrities themselves,  and they party with the very government whose overreach the framers wanted them to protect us from. This is not true in every case-I have some journalistic heroes who put their lives in great danger to expose corruption at every level. But more and more, the people who report on the legislative class go to the same parties, travel in the same circles, and water down their stories and soft-ball questions to these people because they are 'buddies.' This makes idealism even harder because it diminishes the trust the people have in what they are hearing from the press. It also makes people who have, or might have, become journalists in order to expose corruption in our government, question that decision. I was in journalism school for a time, and when I saw the attitudes of some of the old-school newspaper men, I was disgusted. Even the word disgusted seems inadequate since one of those old newspapermen who had won a Pulitzer Prize for a series he wrote in the Washington Post, looked me in the eye and claimed that the fact that Sally Quinn and her husband, Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post, hosted some of the most famous parties in Washington, meant nothing when it came to reporting on these people. Really? Where were they before we invaded Iraq in 2003? Why did they wait nearly six years to expose the outing of Valerie Plame in retaliation for her husband opposing the invasion? The New York Times complicity with the invasion of Iraq is well known, but other papers, if they were following the ideals that framed the beginnings of the American free press were being followed.

I suppose the last area in which idealists should be able to work would be the non-profit sector. I have worked in two non-profits in my life. One was a children's home, in which the administration was so corrupt and dishonest that I quickly felt my idealism drain from me every time I faced one of them. The other was a food bank, that was run by some very odd characters for whom their mission seemed almost secondary. There was one person there who reinforced my ideals, and stayed sold on the mission no matter what. But she was only 20% of the entire staff. I hope she is still there, doing good.

My problem is that I hurt when my ideals are violated. I believe in the interwovenness of every living creature. I still have a, perhaps jaded, view of the 1960s, and wish that the hippies who were preaching peace and tolerance and equality hadn't gone on to become investment bankers and right-wing conservatives. Someone I work with recently quoted the old joke to me, "If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative when you are older, you have no brain." I told him I didn't find that at all funny, especially since my growth has been in the opposite direction. (...I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." Bob Dylan.)  I still have hope that people can change, and begin to care about each other. I don't see it happening in my lifetime. There are too many people who think the old way is better because that's the way things have always been done. I would like to ask them about certain things that were done in the past-slavery, driving native Americans off their lands, or poisoning them with illness, conquering civilizations that were already advanced beyond the conquerors, etc. Should those things come back just because it is good to hold on to the way things were done in the past? I think not. But where can an idealist go to work, and have ideals intact upon retirement? 

No comments: