Part II: Rhetoric and Practice
The plain fact is that the planet does not need more "successful" people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.
—Prof David W. Orr, from "What is Education For?"
Success is slippery. While we can consider alternative definitions, ultimately achievement is measured financially. I feel fortunate to have led a career focused on projects that I found meaningful. Yet I lack the economic status of my peers who own condos, cars, and healthy retirement accounts. It can be difficult to assert one’s own definition of success in a culture so pervasively skewed in another direction. While I respect Professor Orr's admonition, the statement overlooks what we might need to sustain the fight over time, not just in terms of monetary compensation, but emotional and psychological recognition as well. The “successful” people are still inequitably rewarded for exacerbating the negative impacts that many of the projects I work on are trying to fix. Not devolving into pervasive cynicism requires constantly ignoring this discrepancy. While exhausting, there is a potential freedom in this discipline: the opportunity to base my self-worth on a different, deeper foundation than many others. But like a monk who yearns for a new BMW, I’m not all the way there. Occasionally, I can’t help noticing the gap between my definition of success and our culture's—and wanting to close it, however futile I may know this to be.