My thoughts on human rights, social justice, mercy, philanthropy, advocacy go far beyond my job as the CEO of an international NGO.
But this wasn’t always the case.
I once sought to live in life sequestered in an Ivory Tower. In my 30’s, I decided I would give my life to thought — hoping to master the canon of western (analytic) philosophy. I would earn my Ph.D.
I finished UCLA with a BA in philosophy at 38, having studied informally and formally since my mid-twenties. (I didn’t go to college after high school. And I think my GPA was under 2.0.)
Preparing to become Doc Martin, I studied for the GRE, fervently. I toured my reach schools and traveled to some campuses — Christ Church, Oxford, Georgetown. I looked at homes in the suburbs north of South Bend, Indiana because I wanted Notre Dame.
As I prepared to pivot my work, my family, my life, I hit a big fat fork in the road: to the left, academia, to the right, social justice.
An ivory tower is thought to be a metaphorical place — a place where people wrest themselves from the rat-race world, in favor of their own pursuits, usually mental destinations.
I had spent much of my life caring for people. Trying to bring physical, emotional, and spiritual healing to those who need it most. I learned most of it from my mom. The one I can no longer see.
A fork in the road. To the left, academia. To the right, social justice.
I chose to stay on the right path. Some of my decision, like all decision, was out of pure selfishness. Job prospects for philosophy professors were, and remain, bleak. One professor friend of mine at UCLA warned me: “I have a BA from Princeton and Ph.D. from Harvard. I work my brain to the core every single day, producing papers, getting published, so that, hopefully, I will be one of a few associate professors here in the past 30 years to become tenured. (I was so glad to see the Pamela Hieronymi was tenured a few years later, and also recently was a chief contributor to the TV Series, The Good Place.)
But what drove me to philanthropy was probably my keen awareness of my limitations. I don’t think I would have made a good academic. Those guys are really smart. I’m more of a generalist, a jack-of-all-trades who knows just enough about a bunch of things (business, history, marketing, music, theology, public speaking, writing, cooking, botany, finance, digital, politics) but not a lot about any one thing.
I’m a hack in so many ways. Just look at the post; what is even really about?
I’m not that good at focusing if you want to know the truth. I get too distracted. I didn’t think I’d be good at being a philosophy professor — those guys are Albert Einstein’s, figuring out the non-physical world.
Plenty of professors live balanced lives — help advocate for these in need, and they remain in academia. But most are not. Most live in their ivory tower.
Believe it or not, Einstein wasn’t one of them.
He did not lock himself in. One can find countless volumes of his letters and articles written on pressing political and social issues of the day. He would advocate for peace and disarmament. He would write to high officials of various countries.
Nearing the end of his life, Einstein said, “I have expressed an opinion on public issues whenever they appeared so bad to me, and so unfortunate, that silence would have made me feel guilty of complicity.”
A decade or so earlier before the Nazi Adolf Eichmann trial, he wrote that “external compulsion can, to a certain extent, reduce but it can never cancel the responsibility of the individual.”
I feel that I have a responsibility to use my voice when I must.
May we never let ourselves feel guilty of complicity.
Ivory towers are not only of those in academia. An ivory tower can be your job, school, church, your image, your family.
An ivory tower is locking yourself up and in so doing, ignoring the crucial social issues of the day.
One of the biggest issues today is ignorance — calling a wicked and unpredictable pandemic, “the flu” because you heard it on some news station or from an email chain.
The other big issue is those millions of children living in foster care — in group homes, without a mother or father to assure them that all will be okay. They don’t know about Coronavirus, but they know they are hungry and more scared than you and me.
Coronavirus isn’t just “the flu.”