Thursday, February 11, 2016


This past week, two of my dearest friends, Kelly Cahalin and Cat O'Brien, came to visit me in Rome. Kelly came all the way from Nepal, and Cat from Bhutan. They were both here quite a while, and it was so refreshing to see them. I wish I would've been able to work less to see them more, but I'm glad I got to see them at all.

I could go into detail about exactly how we spent our time, but instead, I'm going to talk about what struck me about seeing these two friends after we've had such diverse experiences over the last few years.

When Kelly first walked into her room at the Rome center, she was teary because she had running water, a nice bed, and electricity. It took a few days for that to sink in for me. I've never quite lived without those basic "necessities," or things I considered necessary. It's something I've been pondering over the last few days. What exactly is completely necessary in my life?

Cat came from Bhutan, which, admittedly, before she went there, I had never heard of. Inspired by her quest there, I've since done some research, and it's a really interesting place. It was made only more interesting by her recounting tales of her life and happenings there. Her experience was similar to Kelly's in that she was living much more simply. The contrast between Bhutan and the world at home that she was used to before going are astronomically different. I used to think that I had been living in very different experiences from what I was used to at home, and the more I think about those two, I feel like I haven't challenged myself nearly as much as I thought I had. I'm so unbelievably proud of those two, and in a weird way, I'm kind of jealous.

Seeing these two radically altered my perception of comfortability and normalcy. I have absolutely no idea what it's like to go without, to truly struggle. I thought I was thrusting myself out of my comfort Zone with Korea, but shit, I still had everything I needed at my finger tips. Their visit was a huge, huge privilege check, and I needed that.

Someday, I hope to push myself to those boundaries, to really not have everything readily available. I want to go without the comforts that I'm used to. I imagine both Kelly's and Cat's sense of self and empathy are far beyond what I could imagine. They can put themselves into another's shoes in a way that I can't; I have absolutely no idea what it's like to truly need for anything. I know what it's like to want for things, but that's generally pretty superficial. I wish I had money to travel all over the world, and I would really like a humidor for cigars. In the context of what I just said above, how incredibly stupid does that sound? I've got your answer: mindbogglingly.

Kelly works at an orphanage. In addition to her own everyday lack of comforts, she has a lot of children to worry about as well. Kelly knows I love her more than anything on the planets, but the one thing I definitely love most, is that I know that Kelly would give every single one of those kids running water or electricity before she gave it to herself. Selfless in every sense of the word. The same goes for Cat. She would've given anything to her students. I think true service of others is putting your boots on the ground and getting into the lives of those you wish to serve. Both of these friends have done that, and in my own way, I've engrained myself in the lives of my students to serve them. It's not in the same way, but drawing that comparison made me feel a bit less down about myself after comparing my last few years to those of my incredible friends. I do feel like I'm making a difference for someone, even if it isn't the most underserved population out there. My students are probably the opposite of underserved generally, and the sense of entitlement is often infuriating, but these students could cure cancer, or solve world hunger, or become president. I hope in my own way, that I'm contributing to the betterment of every student I meet.

I don't know that I'll ever have an experience similar to what Kelly or Cat has had. They are the type of people I aspire to be. They're the type of people I hope to meet every day and surround myself with. I'm lucky as hell to have them in my life. It's always refreshing to have reminders of the people in my life who are awesome. I've been noticing recently the selflessness of my coworkers, and their desire to help others (even if sometimes they're at their wits end). I've seen some radiant examples recently of their care for those around them. Every single day there's a reminder of the awesomeness around me, and I ought to start paying more attention to it.

I've gone on long enough I think. Cheers today and always to all of you who make each day worth waking up for. Ciao!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Motivation, Recognition, & Appreciation

Much like my last post and many of the others before that, this one is stemming from one of my random midday thoughts that keeps me thinking for a large portion of the day. Today, I got to thinking about the motivation for why I do things and why we all do things. Maybe I'm just sensitive to it, but it seems like the topic of my religious beliefs has been coming up a lot lately. It's been pretty organic, but it occurred to me that a lot of people are probably good people because of the expectation of divine reward (whether in the afterlife, or in more favorable circumstances on earth). That's an interesting concept to me. Cat's out of the bag that I don't necessarily identify as religious, but I think there's something to be said for doing good things just for the sake of doing them, without any expectation of reward or recognition. I'm not saying that's something that I'm about all the time, but it's a nice thought, isn't it?

Everyone likes positive reinforcement. A pat on the back and a friendly recognition are always welcome. My question is, to what extent are we really doing things for ourself? We live in a culture where we post photos for the sake of getting likes. We alter our personalities online and offline to get noticed, and I'm just as guilty as the next person. However, I think it needs to be good enough to do things just because they should be done. Mature adults realize what's right and what's wrong, what has to be done and what doesn't. The best piece of advice I was ever given was from my high school athletic director. He said something to the effect of: "You can be the president or the janitor. If it's a Saturday and the toilet needs plunging, you should just do it." That's not necessarily something you're going to get recognition for, but there's something to be said for just doing it, for not being above any job, and not expecting that pat on the back afterward.

That said, it really sucks to do something that probably deserves a thank you, and then, you don't get it. If you hold a door for someone and they walk through without a word, you'll probably think them a rather rude person. So, is generosity a two-way street? Is it really a generous thing to do if you expect something in return? I think there's intrinsic value in generosity and in being generous with putting your time and efforts towards things. It feels really good to make someone else's day. That's value enough in a lot of cases.

I've been asked by a handful of students why I wanted to be an SLA, and I think that got my brain turning about why I do the things I do. Why am I here in Italy? I think it's a mix of selfish and unselfish reasons. I really do care about the students and their experience. However, Italy is personally rewarding right now, too. I can't pinpoint one reason why I'm here, and I think that motivations are generally a lot more complicated than one factor. It's interesting to try to dissect why I am where I am from an intrinsic point-of-view, though. It's something I think I'll be thinking about a lot in the future.

I think I've figured out a good balance of selfish and generosity. I think I do enjoy recognition as much as the next person, but I also do sometimes do things just for the sake of doing them. Sometimes I fish for likes or for the pat on the back, but sometimes, I do things just because they need to be done. It's a complex thought for me for some reason. Is doing things for the sake of the recognition wrong? I don't think it's wrong to be a good person because you expect divine reward; however, the idea of doing things selflessly to the point of not about rewards seems very noble to me. The best people I know are people who just give without expectation. They don't hold a debt in front of your face; they sneak attack you with donuts during the middle of your work day (that happened today, so it's a concrete example).

Anyway, I don't have much of a conclusion from all of these thoughts. It's more of a lingering question about why I do what I do, and why other people do what they do. If the end is the same (a good deed, or a beautiful photo online, or generosity of time and effort), do I need to question why I'm doing what I'm doing or why other people are? I'm willing to pat everyone on the back and recognize their good deeds if they do more of them. Those stories don't make the news though these days. Alas, I digress.

Kudos to you if you managed to make sense of any of that. Have a good one, pals.