Monday, November 2, 2009

How Do We Know Where is Right?

When you live in the north where it is cold and windy, you have to wonder sometimes, where is the best place to live?  Where it is warm, it can be crowded and not only with people but with other forms of life, too.  In many places, the water supply is questionable, the taxes are high, the air quality may be low.  Having giant wildfires, volcanic eruptions, mudslides, floods, tsunamis and earthquakes is only fun for a short time. 
When I had a course on the history of higher ed., I found the traditions of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota to be outstanding.  As the Northwest Territory was being settled, those states had a plan of laying out townships and including part of each for a school.  At the same time, those states founded universities which were explicitly aimed at research and the improvement of the lives of the citizens, not merely for instruction in ancient wisdom and languages.  That difference, that higher education was to be for research and improvement was not common throughout the world, where knowing what Aristotle had to say often ranked higher in importance.
It’s true that the northern latitudes can get some nasty weather, the kind that Garrison Keillor says is Nature’s attempt to kill us.  Still, we do have clothes and fuel and enclosed and heated cars.  Some people say that the cold keeps out the riff-raff. 
Maryland and places in the middle of the country can have great difficulty with a small amount of snow while the northern states seem to be able to handle it.  Why is that?  It is true that those who get heavy snow expect it and prepare.  They have experience dealing with it and if they let the snow disappoint them too often, they would have three or four months missing out of each year.  One surprise regarding cold is that temperatures below freezing are easier to deal with than temperatures that warm above freezing during the day, melt ice or snow and then drop back below freezing at night.
Recruiting for faculty members at northern colleges can be difficult.  When I moved here from Maryland, I was afraid for the house windows at temperatures of 20 or 30 below.  Wouldn’t the glass break from stress?
For Lynn and me, the major factor is family.  Children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are a little part of us and we of them.  Those little parts add up and matter. 
I think that the location where your life is in balance is the place to live.  Over time, you may figure out how to have a balanced life in any given location and that place may be a good one.  I have friends who were surprised by the difficulty of finding good doctors and dentists in a new location.  The quality of government, the work ethic, the restaurants and night life, bookstores, hospitals, gardening possibilities – there are many things that may attract or later grow to matter.
Pascal pitied his friends since they had so many hopes and projects that from the point of view of probability alone, there would surely be some disappointing failures in their lives.  I have come to picture our bodies and our hopes and goals as sufficiently complex that we will simply not realize everything we want when we want it. 

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