Friday, September 21, 2007

Listening for Sound Bites

Couldn't pick between four events yesterday after classes were over, so went to all four. We'll see how long THAT lasts.

Lots of high-falutin' ideas at MIT's forum on "What is Civic Media?" about whether social networking and distributive intelligence have killed or fostered democracy's "deliberative ideal." (Update: See Ethan Zuckerman's blog post on the "civic media" forum for more detail.) And really scrumptious chocolate cake at the meeting of the pre-med committee at Lowell House as well as great appetizers at the Knight Science Journalism Fellows reception at MIT. (Free food seems to be a theme at a lot of the events I've attended lately.)

But the thought that's still rattling around in my brain this morning as I hurry off to class is something that Ira Magaziner said at last night's student forum at the Kennedy School. I'm paraphrasing here, but basically he said, that if you love what you do, then you don't notice the hours that you put into your job and, by extension, away from your family. Specifically, of course, he was talking about his passion for global health and poverty alleviation in his capacity as chair of the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative. They don't worry too much about individual job satisfaction at the Clinton Foundation, Magaziner said. They're too busy saving lives.

At a minimum, that sounded to me like a recipe for burnout. And the more I thought about it, the more it also seemed like the kind of attitude that lets people off the hook too easily. If you have to be a Mother Teresa to do anything about global poverty or the wide disparity around the world in basic health care, then not much is going to get done. (And lately, we've learned that even Mother Teresa wasn't the kind of saint most people thought she was--she was privately wracked with doubt about both her faith and her mission.)

The point being that there will always be people like Paul Farmer, who was also at the Kennedy School forum, and Ira Magaziner who are driven to do something, driven to the point that their passion consumes their lives. But if we leave the vision of a more just and healthy world to people like this alone, the mission will never be accomplished.

Ordinary folks, the kind who do care about job satisfaction and vacations and having time for family, have to be part of the equation as well or the job won't get done. And it's okay to make room for ordinary folks with ordinary goals.

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