Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rules to Suit

We live in Central Illinois by choice. Given that, it seems churlish to be unhappy that on the first of December, cold and snow have arrived for the first time. There’s a Jimmy Buffett song about finding a life that suits his style. For me, it’s more about adapting my rules to suit my life.

Writing this, as I am, while stalled/procrastinating on finishing something due today, I’m contemplating which of my rules are useful and which are not. This is relevant to the section of the book I’m working on as well because I’m struggling to write coherently and helpfully about how young professionals encounter a range of reactions to ethical situations and need to develop a personal code of conduct before getting too deeply enmeshed in settings that influence them for the worse. The challenge is to avoid being preachy (“do it my way because I said so, and I’m old and wise”) or too wishy washy (“whatever works for you”) in setting out options for exploring values and knowing what they are--and still saying how doing the right thing matters even when it’s not expedient or easy. It all boils down to how to develop rules that work and also help each person be a contributing and positive member of society. Conveying that clearly is turning out not to be so easy.

While that rumbles around in the back of my head, my task for this morning is cutting things down: a talk I’m giving next week and a summary of the Ethics Center project for an upcoming advisory board meeting. This is all connected to the concept of rules because I’m trying to focus more, and to adopt an improved less-is-more stance. This is all in aid of remedying a problem in my presentations in that that I typically try to teach everyone everything I know all at once. Conceptually, I understand this isn’t a great approach--more than once, participants at events have characterized the experience as trying to drink from a fire hose. All the stuff is useful and good, and still, there’s no point in trying to share all of it in every situation. Which gets me back to the basic conundrum: what’s the real point, and how best to focus on it?

Thinking about that question circles back to the question: what is the goal, anyway? That forces me to contemplate what’s shaping my responses and the “rules” that, for better or worse, govern my thinking. Here are a few that come to mind today:

It’s not about me, it’s about the audience.
The audience doesn’t always know what it doesn’t know.
I need to trust myself more and not second-guess so much.
We shouldn’t complain about the logical consequences of my our choices.

Hence my judgments about my grumpiness around the snow and cold. We’ve had a glorious, mild autumn, with shirt-sleeve sunny weather as recently as Sunday. It’s been a real gift. We choose to live in Central Illinois, and have reaffirmed that choice at many times over the years. We choose it because we wanted stability for our family, our children and, yes, us. We choose it because of quality of life. We choose it because we like the midwestern values and the people and because we could find satisfying work here, in a reasonable balance with personal fulfillment and overall life. When it comes right down to it, we’ve come to realize that neither of us much likes the trade-offs that beautiful weather brings in over-developing/occupying places that have a more appealing climate. Having recently been in Madison to visit Kearney and Brad, we appreciate anew the quality of the water produced by the Mahomet aquifer that runs out of our taps. We appreciate being able to get to work in 5 minutes and to be able to walk/bike/ride the bus with ease. We like the prairie sky and landscape, though we’re plenty able to appreciate flashier landscapes as well. Given all of that, there’s no justification for grumpiness, so I’m working on reframing my attitude about the snow and cold. Here’s my best shot: the snow on the ground really brightens things up on an otherwise grey day.

Back to work. May you find the brightness in your day.

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