Monday, August 24, 2009

Choice and Quality of Life

Over the weekend, there were a couple of articles in The Wall Street Journal that resonated with me. It was amplified when I remembered an entry in my personal journal that seemed to explain why.

The entry in my journal was a brief line from Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls.
“...nothing is done to oneself that one does not accept…”
In, my opinion, this is one of the ultimate statements of empowerment and of responsibility. It speaks to the idea that people can make a difference. Whether talking about politics or fate, people have the ability to take things into their own hands. There may be consequences for that action, but one can change things or refuse to submit - to "rage, rage against the dying of the light" as Dylan Thomas wrote (although he was talking about something else). Conversely, doing nothing, or choosing not to act is the same as accepting what is done to you. Those who do nothing really have solid basis for complaint. Now, before I go too far afield, let me return to the subject of this post - choice and our quality of life.

There were two articles in the Weekend Journal. One dealt with Russia and one dealt with private communication. Both spoke of the choices people make.

The first article, Pride and Power (free at this writing), was about Russia's desire to remain relevant and maintain what it sees as its proper place among the "Great Powers." The article addressed U.S. policy and Russia's need for internal political challenges. But that was largely normative in nature. But what struck me were the references to the Russian people, their desire for their country to be a player on the world stage; and their seeming willingness to sacrifice aspects of democratic life that citizens of other countries would deem more important, in order to maintain or regain that status. Given international status as an incentive, the quote from Hemingway seems to offer some explanation.

Not So Fast (free at this writing) was the second article that grabbed my attention. It was about our constant obsession with communication. It is a plea to slow down - to think about how we communicate and with whom. This may seem like an odd idea to be promulgated through a blog, but hear me out. I'm not for or against the message, largely because I'm not sure what side I fall on. But I think the author's exhortation to choice is important. People can be overwhelmed by the immediacy of the modern world. But then there's the statement from For Whom the Bell Tolls. The extent to which contact intrudes or keeps us from enjoying a more deliberate pace is the extent to which we allow it to be so.

How does this fit into to your class? In a crowded curriculum, it is difficult. But these are items that could be "kept in reserve" for those serendipitous moments where discussion of the mundane - choice and opportunity cost - evolves into a deeper and more meaningful opportunity to bring economic thinking into a realm that your students may see as "non-economic." At the very least, the articles will put some ideas in your head to use in discussion. The choice is what's important - and whether you accept the recommendation is your choice.

I look forward to your comments.

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