Choices and destiny

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Choices are the hinges of destiny.” – Pythagoras

When my mother was visiting this past week, we spent some time wandering by the monuments here in Washington and she posed a question I had never really thought to ask.

She wondered, in several instances, about how I ended up where I am today — in Washington, a journalist, with aspirations to work in foreign affairs. Am I passionate about foreign policy because my parents ensured I spoke Russian at home when I was growing up? Or because they taught me about my family’s history and culture? Did I end up in Washington because of my studies at Boston University and inspiration from some politically-astute professors? Would I still end up here eventually if I didn’t take a journalism job in Washington 4 years ago? What would have happened if I didn’t do all those things?

I’d like to think I would still find my way to where I belong . . .

It’s a tough balance believing in fate and simultaneously strongly believing that every life choice matters. As I struggle to make potentially life-altering decisions about my future right now, I have to think about both. As a self-starter and generally pushy human being, I know that getting what I want means making a path for myself even when there isn’t one already there. But a small part of me still knows that no matter what choices I ultimately make, I will end up where I need to be.

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Upstairs, Downstairs

For some reason, as I read the Atlantic’s January/February 2012 cover story from Adam Davidson about jobs and America’s changing economy, I can’t help but think about this exchange from the highly celebrated Masterpiece series Downton Abbey:

Matthew (third cousin, heir to the estate and basically simple self-made dude who doesn’t think he needs a servant to dress him):  I’ve been meaning to speak to you about Mosley (his valet, who is meant to dress him).  Would you find me very ungrateful if I dispensed of his services?

Lord Grantham (benevolent head of the estate):  Why?  Has he displeased you in some way?

Mathew:  Not at all ~ it’s simply that he’s superfluous to our style of living…

Lord Grantham:  Is that quite fair?  To deprive a man of his livelihood when he’s done nothing wrong?

Mathew:  Well, I wouldn’t quite put it~

Lord Grantham:  Your mother derives satisfaction from her work at the hospital I think, some sense of self worth…

Mathew:  Well, certainly –

Lord Grantham:  Would you really deny the same to poor ol’ Mosley?  And when you are master here ~ is the butler to be dismissed?  Or the footman?  How many maids or kitchen staff will be allowed to stay or must everyone be driven out?  We all have different parts to play Matthew.  And we must all be allowed to play them.

Matthew, a middle-class solicitor who knows what a “weekend” is and has never had anyone prancing around him in his life, is thrust into a world where butlers, valets and ladies maids wait on his every word. The new heir to the Downton estate is slightly perturbed by this development. Why should he pay someone to dress him when he can do it perfectly well himself? “It seems a very silly occupation for a grown man,” he snaps at his valet at one point. “Surely you have better things to do?” he tells him.

After Lord Grantham explains the reasoning behind employing a valet to the amateur aristocrat (above), Matthew sees the error of his ways and allows ‘poor ol’ Mosley’ to do his job.

Can manufacturing or other jobs disappearing from our economy be compared to those of estate servants and valets in 1912? Is our modern “aristocracy” not as benevolent as it used to be?

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Tools are not oracles

Recently, a friend of mine sent me a commencement speech Tom Brokaw made last year (2009) at William and Mary, which he, coincidentally, made on the exact same day as my graduation.

I like the general concept of commencement speeches – they are always so quotable, probably because they are meant to inspire people who are facing the daunting phenomenon called “the real world,” which Brokaw jokes, “was junior high”. Continue reading

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