Remembering why we do what we do

Some interesting reads this week.  I thought the article on the new professional was really good.  They made some good points about making sure we connect the things we learn and produce in academia and professional practice to the people around us and recognize the need to keep a human perspective in the things we do.

I think it’s easy for professionals and academics alike to look at things too scientifically and in too sterile an environment.  We start reducing people to statistics and numbers and words and we lose focus on the lives behind the numbers and behind the words.  This leads us to forget the why behind what we do and sometimes leads us to miss opportunities to do things that will actually benefit the world at large.  I liked the comment that knowing isn’t enough.  If we can’t have a soul behind the knowledge and actually use it to the benefit of someone else, we are really missing the boat.  As someone mentioned in class a month or so ago, we also put ourselves in danger of getting so caught up in progress and innovation that we don’t always recognize the full consequences of what we’re doing and may end up doing more harm than good.

I think we have a responsibility as people in positions of power/privilege/education/potential/you-name-it, which we certainly are given we have the opportunity to be attending school and getting advanced degrees, to actually make a positive change in the world and to recognize that we can and should do more.  That starts with taking more time to think about the people affected by our research, our teaching, and our practice, and then making changes based upon the things we discover.  I had the opportunity to visit the Oso Washington landslide which killed 43 people.  Although I didn’t have anything to do with the poor engineering and public policy that led to the disaster, that experience certainly shaped the way I continued in engineering practice.  It’s moments like that that serve to wake you up to the realities of what we are actually called to achieve in academia and practice.  I hope most of us don’t need wake up calls that dramatic, but I do hope we take more time to stop and look at the world around us and remember what it is we’re working for.  And then do something about it.