Steven Simpson’s Blog

Please check every Monday for my most recent blog posting.  Most entries will be about nature or other environmental topics, but occasionally I will write about writing, family, travel, or the Driftless Region.

Work, Not Work

  1. Last week my sister-in-law in Thailand told me her gardener returned to his hometown for the Thai New Year and never came back. She says that this happens to her on a regular basis. She pays well by Thai standards and also gives her worker a free place to live. About every three years, after her worker has saved enough money to get by without working for a couple of years, he quits and goes into retirement until the money runs out. 
  1. A  day later I am reading a passage from Tiziano Terzani’s A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East. The events in the book take place in 1993, the year Terzani travels Asia by land because a Hong Kong fortune teller tells him not to board a plane (and to Terzani’s own surprise, he heeds the advice). While in Indonesia, Terzani laments that the country is developing economically, but that a disproportionate amount of the money is going into the pockets of Chinese expatriates, not local residents. He speculates that the reason for this is that the average Indonesian wants only to have enough, whereas many Chinese entrepreneurs emigrate to Indonesia specifically to get rich. Terzani summarizes his point with an analogy of two fisherman in the same village, one Indonesian and one Chinese. The Indonesian fishermen has a good day on the water, so after bringing in his catch, he celebrates by putting his feet up. The Chinese fisherman also had a good day, so right after he brings in his catch, he heads back out to sea to catch more fish.
  1. This morning on CNN on-line I read an article about Ma Yun (English name Jack Ma), one of the richest men in China. He was being criticized for embracing the Chinese work practice known as 996. Nine-nine-six refers to working from 9am to 9pm six days a week. Ma was not advocating ridiculously long work hours for everyone, but was pointing out that great accomplishments do not come from working a standard workweek.  He was quoted as saying, “I personally think that 996 is a huge blessing. How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?”

I wish that, during my working years, I’d been more like the Thai gardener and the hypothetical Indonesian fisherman.  Ironically, had I spent less time at work, I would have done more gardening and more fishing.

Minimum Wage and Living the Dream

The recent college admission scandal has generated some excellent discussion, but it ignores the situation of most young adults. I am referring to the kids Hasan Minhaj on Patriot Act described as people who, rather than suing Harvard when they don’t get in, just get on with life.

The biggest misconception that surfaces when we focus on the students obsessed with prestigious colleges is that all college-bound kids plan their lives around padding their college admission packages. In my experience as a professor at a state university and as a father whose daughter attended public schools, I encounter kids who do the opposite. They, in fact, do exactly what New York Times editorial writer Frank Bruni suggests. These young people seek extracurricular activities that satisfy them intrinsically. They want to build their resumes, but they do so by racking up the experiences they want to do, not by doing what was recommended to them by a private consultant hired by their parents.  Let me give you two concrete examples. 

  1. I called a student into my office and told him that he misunderstood the directions to a particular written assignment.  I gave him a ‘C’ on his paper, but offered him the weekend to rewrite it for a better grade.  He replied, “I appreciate the chance, but I’ll take the ‘C.’ I’m in charge of a big event this weekend at the Boys and Girls Club. I’m just a volunteer, but they are depending on me.”
  1. Some of my students, upon graduation, land jobs as wilderness trip leaders or environmental educators. When they return to campus to tell me what they are up to, none are able to keep a smile off their faces. These idealistic kids are earning minimum wage and living the dream.

I do not worry whether elite schools might be producing immoral autotrons. If not for the fact that prestigious schools produce a disproportional number of senators, CEOs, and US presidents, it would be a tempest in a teapot. The majority of young adults at the majority of institutions of high learning have their priorities straight.