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Listening to the Real World

by Trudi Wood

I'm planning a couple of mini-vacations this year. I want to go visit some friends and relatives, catch up on lost time. I want to see new places and walk ancient paths. I want to breathe different air, smell different flowers, and rest in the shade of different trees. Before I leave, however,there is one place I'd like to find. It isn't on any map. It doesn't even have a proper name. It's as mystical as Camelot, as frightening as Transylvania, and as confusing as Oz. I know you've heard of this place. You might even have warned others about it. It's called The Real World, and it's hovering along the borders of our lives.

I'd like to believe we all live in the real world, but, of course, we don't, at least the perception is that we don't. There seems to be a whole universe of satellite worlds that hover around us but never quite come into contact with us. So, how do you build a society when so many of its counterparts live in their own little world? First, I think, you have to look at those worlds.

Almost every profession functions within the bounds of its own walls. The very concept of a profession is defining. A college professor once told me that there were only two true professions: physicians and lawyers. Both doctors and lawyers can teach, or profess, about their vocations; both deal in specifics that lead to jargon used only in their fields of interest. Therefore, the only professions are doctors and lawyers. So, they have naturally put themselves in a sphere removed from the rest of society, because society doesn't truly understand the fine points of doctoring and lawyering. Those two worlds have been in place since the time of Socrates. Certainly, he recognized the professional aspects of law and medicine.

However, Socrates was a teacher--although he died denying that accusation. He adamantly believed that taking money for teaching was unethical, still, he was tried for using his wisdom to corrupt the youth of Athens. His trial set up a division between society and academia that has flourished over the last two thousand years. Like the judges of ancient Athens, we should realize that teachers do feed students a steady diet of propaganda.

While most of society wants literate children, teaching has become much more involved over time. No longer are reading, writing, and arithmetic the basis of education. Now, we expect history, social studies, literature, ethics, philosophy, home care, music, art, deportment, and more to be poured into students. What's more we expect results! Therefore, we judge the teachers and their charges with test after test after test. Today schools are fenced in red tape and ruled by legislatures who want parental input and, at the same time refuse parental involvement. Consequently, over time the academic institutions have grown into a sphere of their own. What teacher hasn't warned students of the terrible realities of the world? In academia we have another satellite of the real world.

The growth of satellite worlds goes further. I overheard a discussion between electric utility employees. They were concerned about the public animosity over the need for nuclear power plants.
"People in the real world just don't understand what it takes to manufacture electricity."
"I know! Let them try living without it for a while, then they'll appreciate that we are only trying to give them what they want by the most economic means possible."
So, here we have it! Even the electric company is removed from the rest of the world. Most likely any utility company that is paid to provide a service feels the same way. That is they do the best they can, and no one appreciates them.

The mailman delivers his packages and letters in all sorts of weather, and still his public is not pleased with the costs and speed of his deliveries. The airline loses luggage and no one can understand that when switching from one flight to another that mistakes are bound to be made. The waitress serves breakfast and her customer doesn't understand why his eggs aren't cooked right; he doesn't realize that she didn't cook the eggs, she only delivered the plate! In the real world people don't understand one another. Not only do they lack understanding, they don't care. Maybe that's the crux of the matter.

Is the real world a non-caring place? Is it a loosely bound society of people who don't understand one another? Should we just leave it alone and function in our own little sphere? I'm not sure I have the answer to any of these questions, but I'm saddened by the idea that the children we're turning out of schools don't know that the world doesn't have to be this way. I wonder what would happen if we took time to ask some questions,then took more time to listen to the answers.

If a doctor tells you to take a pill once a day, maybe you should ask her why the pill is necessary. If a lawyer defends you for violating a law, then you should ask why she feels the need to deal with the prosecutor. If a child is unhappy in school, then a parent needs to ask the teacher why the child is unhappy. The assumption here is that you will want to know the answer, and are prepared to dislike it. The doctor may say, "The pill is necessary to keep your blood pressure down because you are way too fat and don't get enough exercise, so we have to use drugs to make your body think it's healthy." The lawyer may say, "The prosecutor has proof that you were driving while intoxicated. Your good intentions don't mean a thing here." The teacher may say, "Johnny is unhappy because he needs discipline at home. He needs rules and guidelines." Maybe we avoid the real world because we don't want to deal with the responsibility of understanding other sides of pertinent issues.

I can see it now. The real world is a real place, but it's inhabited by a very small number of citizens. Most of them are older folks who have come to understand that communicating is the glue that holds a society together. Others might be living vicariously on the Internet in an electronic world of the anonymous; while there they might encounter new friends that bring enlightenment and experiences that will help broaden their own worldly realms. While the rest of the world focuses on their own small issues in their own satellite worlds, those who live in the real world see a much bigger picture. They live lives of discovery and understanding, and they just might be the ambassadors of the future.

Now, my little journeys this year have a new purpose. I still hope to walk new paths and smell new fragrances and see new trees, but mostly I want to meet new people. I want to see what makes them happy. I want to understand what's important in their lives. I want to see if they hug their children, and visit with their grandparents. I might even start this journey right here; it shouldn't be difficult. There are plenty of people right here. I hope they're ready to answer questions, because this year I'm going to take more time to listen to the real world.

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Trudi Wood is a misplaced Hoosier living in Florida who has been married longer than she was single. Trudi has three basically grown sons, a sweet old dog, and a terrorist bunny rabbit. She has a degree in criminology with a focus on history and juvenile justice and wants to save the world, but is still trying to figure out from what.

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