Recently, someone commented on another post that I complain a lot. I get that once in a while because anyone who has ever met me in person knows I come off crankier on the Internet than I am in real life.
While some may feel upset or bothered when someone totally mischaracterizes their personality, I actually love it. First of all, there’s the whole judging me without really knowing me thing. I try not to do it for others (not always successfully) and am amused when others do it to me. But more importantly, it’s the notion that complaining about things you have a problem with is inherently a bad thing. Lastly there is the notion that the comment can be seen as a complaint about someone complaining meaning that you are complaining so the three fingers are pointing back at you. Or some nonsense like that. I like complaining about complaining sometimes so I let that one go.
Just because I or anyone else complains does not make them bad, especially since a look at the sum total of the things I talk about would show lots of cheerleading (maybe too much), but most importantly, pragmatism. Sometimes I do complain, but sometimes it’s much deeper than that.
Sure, I criticize the borough manager for not being able to use Power Point correctly or for having a horrific website as the face of Hanover, but those are specific complaints with easy solutions in areas where I have professional experience. When you take the things you learn and try to apply them for positive effect to benefit others, how is that bad?
I thought about this a lot this morning as I read a Chronicle of Higher Education article called “What ‘Learning How to Think’ Really Means.” The article focuses on the positive effects of a liberal arts education. One clause in one sentence sentence does a perfect job of explaining my problems with the borough’s rush to push the Fire Museum into the old Eagle Fire Company, a move which curiously hit the fast track the day after the council president was slaughtered in the primary election.
People with intellectual virtues will be persistent, ask for help when they need it, provide help when others need it, and not settle for expedient but inaccurate solutions to tough problems.
I’m not going so far as to endow myself with the lofty gift of “intellectual virtues,” but I have been thinking a lot about college since I recently had my 25-year reunion at Allegheny College, a place where I really learned to think and judge and act (and party, to be honest).
During one conversation at the reunion, the topic of a minor came up. We were walking by the building that housed the Classics department. Since I took AP Latin in high school and received credit for my test score, the head of the department tried to recruit me as a Classics major. That wasn’t happening, so he also made a pitch for minoring in the field. I pretty much dismissed it out of hand, but ended up pretty close to actually pulling it off.
I had credit for two classes from the AP exam and could use my classes in Greek and Roman Art and Green and Roman Epics to get close to the six-class requirement for a minor. I may have had one other class, but the real stumbling block was the requirement of what Allegheny called a “seminar ” class for any minor. Seminars were fairly intensive classes that prepared people in a major for their senior thesis, nicknamed a “comp” at Allegheny. You took your seminar as a junior so you got a taste of what comping would feel like.
I ended up taking three seminars in my major, English. They each required a 25ish page page at the end of the trimester. By comparison, my comp was 60-some pages long. I took multiple English comps because that was my speciality, and they came up with some really, really awesome topics during my junior and senior year. But I was in no way, shape or form putting myself through the same thing in Classics. Or History or Communication Arts, two other departments I was close to minoring in.
This long explanation is my way of saying that my time at Allegheny taught me to seek out many different ways of approaching things. I took some classics, some comm arts, a bunch of history, a psych class, computer science, economics and even theatre appreciation (which I took mainly because it was one of the few things open when I did registration freshman year).
But I also wrestled for four years, worked on the campus newspaper, played and officiated intramural sports, was an officer in my fraternity and represented us on the Interfraternity Council. None of this counts the amount of time sitting around and talking with lots of other really smart people who were taking their own eclectic mix of courses because they, like me, just found it interesting to learn new stuff.
I guess that is why I shake my head when people try to pigeon hole my curiosity and outspokenness as complaining. I grew up with parents who expected their eight children to learn as much as they could and know how to think critically about the decisions they made. I had seven siblings who held me accountable for so many things. Then I had four years of reading and talking and questioning and taking action.
All of that has led to what some people want to characterize as “complaining.” I will never accept that as the truth. I don’t just throw out negativity. I take a look at what is happening, run it through the experiences I have had and the things I have learned and offer a perspective that others may not have considered. Sometimes that means the project you think is perfect may need new and varied voices and may need to take a little longer than you want it to be done (which you probably hate because if you do it now you won’t have to listen to anyone else because they don’t have your experience so they can’t be right).
A fire museum is a wonderful thing. Preserving history is a great virtue. Reusing classic buildings is an admirable goal. But to do it right, you need the intellectual virtues to know that it needs to take time, care and careful consideration with the voices of museum professionals, fundraising experts and unemotional onlookers to make sure that we aren’t trying to save history every seven or 10 years because we never took the time to plan and discuss things beyond seven to 10 years.
So if it’s complaining to expect a major project to have clearly defined goals and an articulated path to success, call me guilty. I just think I’m using the tools I learned in life.