The Old Woman Who Wanted to Be a Pilot

Little girl dreaming of becoming a pilot

I would like to tell you a story that led me to a principle that I have used over and over again in my life.  The story begins in 1979.  I had just received my M.S. degree in Counseling from the University of Wisconsin – Stout.  I began applying for jobs where I could use my degree.  I also took the Wisconsin test for state employment. 

I did well on the state employment test and after an interview process, I was hired by what was then the Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations (DILHR) as a Manpower Counselor 2.  I was officially a counselor in the Work Incentive Program (WIN).  I would be in charge of the WIN Program as well as a number of other programs including, Labor Education Advancement Program (LEAP), Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program (IRAP) and the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA).  I would have offices in two counties.  One office was in Ellsworth, Wisconsin in Pierce County.  The other office was in Hudson, Wisconsin in St. Croix County.  I was then living in River Falls, Wisconsin which was almost dead center between my two offices. 

2111

Each day my job consisted of basically trying to help people find employment.  Depending on their ages, genders, skill levels and aptitudes, I had a variety of resources to help them find a job.  Some of my resources included, employer incentives, apprenticeship training, on-the-job-training, education benefits and a variety of tools to help my clients gain the needed skills to find and seek employment.  I also had a large data base of employment openings that were furnished daily by the head office in Madison, Wisconsin.   

My counseling program at Stout was led by a grand educator named Evelyn Rimel.  She was dedicated to the counseling program and would do anything she could to help her students learn the skills they needed to become good counselors.  Dr. Rimel was born in September 1911 and died in August 2009 one month shy of her 98th birthday.  She was a remarkable woman.  The following poem which she wrote expresses her ideas and goals in life.  She was 42 years old when she wrote this poem and numerous people will vouch for her devotion to this vision.

aac54f3a-b1b5-11de-9fb3-001cc4c03286.imageI’d like to think when life is done,

That I had filled a needed post;

That here and there I’d paid my fare,

With more than idle talk or boast;

 That I had taken gifts divine,

The breath of life and womanhood mine,

And tried to use them, then and now,

In service to my fellow man.

Evelyn received many awards during her lifetime.  When she died she was the oldest living and longest-serving member of the American Association of University Women, a national organization to which she belonged for more than 75 years.

Evelyn was the prime mover in the counseling program at Stout and no one who was accepted into the program could ignore her influence on what they would learn.  For instance, employment and school counselors are taught to use many tests such as the GATB, SATB, Kuder Richardson and Strong Campbell to help profile job applicants and identify their strengths and weaknesses.  Dr. Rimel would hear nothing about weaknesses.  She told us that these tests were only pointers and not conclusive evidence of what someone could or could not do.  I still remember what Evelyn said but at the time it seemed very theoretical.  I would not learn the real meaning of her message until I met this client who came into my life a year or so later.

employment-counseling-2-638

The year was 1980 and I was in my office in Hudson when an older woman came in to see me.  She asked if I could help her find a job.  I was 34 years old at the time and it was early in the year 1980.  The economy was not doing so well, and it was difficult to find decent paying employment in our area.  I asked her to take a seat and how could I help her?  She told me that her name was Margaret and that her husband had recently passed away.  They had raised four children and she had been a stay-at-home mom.  She had no schooling or formal training beyond high school.  She was 68 years old and did not have enough money to live on.  She needed to find a job to supplement her social security income. 

FYC.adviser.0020-16x9-1-1024x576I asked her if she had any idea what she could do.  She replied that she did not.  I suggested that she take an employment aptitude test to see what kinds of work she might find interesting.  It was all very theoretical to me, but I could not imagine what kind of work I could find for her in the local area that would pay enough for her to live on.  She did not have any current job experience and no goals for a career.  The aptitude test was simply an effort to do something even though I did not believe that I could help her much.

She agreed to take the test which I then administered.  When she had finished the test, I told her that I would need to have the test scored.  We setup an appointment for the following week to meet again.  I sent the test in to be scored and the results came back before our next appointment.  When I reviewed the results, I was incredibly surprised.  I even laughed at the findings of the test.  The test showed Margaret’s highest aptitude to be that of an airline pilot.  I laughed because in 1980 there were few women finding employment in the commercial airline industry as a pilot and even fewer who were 68 years of age.  Not to mention, a woman with no prior flight experience or military experience.  Back in the 80’s, many commercial airline pilots came from the ranks of retired or former military pilots. 

I chalked Margaret’s results up to a curious irregularity in the testing results or an anomaly that could probably not be explained.  I was not willing to put any credence into the test and totally ignored Evelyn’s caveat about using employment tests as pointers and not as conclusive evidence.  When Margaret arrived at my office for her appointment we sat down to discuss her results and what our next steps might be.  I started the conversation off by a dismissal of the test findings.   “Margaret, these tests are frequently not accurate.  This test showed your number one aptitude to be that of an airline pilot.”  She looked down at the floor and then up at me.  Speaking directly into my face, she solemnly said, “When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an airline pilot, but my parents and teachers all told me it was impossible.  Girls could never be commercial airline pilots.”    

maxresdefault

I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation that day or whether or not I ever found a good job for Margaret.  What I do remember and will never forgot was my narrow mindedness and smugness.  I had totally written off the possibility that Margaret could ever be an airline pilot. 

c2d1d8ecded27a0c66583ebd41628dab

I mentioned at the start of this story that I gained a principle from this episode that I have used the rest of my life.  The principle was this:  I would never ever tell anyone, client, student, relative or friend that they could not do something or be something.  From Margaret, I realized that one of the things that holds us back are other people who tell us what we can or cannot do.  I have previously told the story of my spouse Karen who was advised by her high school guidance counselor that she could never be a nurse because of her low science aptitude scores.  Karen ignored this “helpful” advice and spent over 55 years in the medical field as a registered nurse and nurse manager. 

 “Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it.  You do what you want, what you love.  Imagination should be the center of your life.”  —Ray Bradbury.

 

Ecclesiastes: The Wisest Book of All Time?

EcclesiastesI want to write about Ecclesiastes this week.  It is one of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible.  It is among the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament that can be found in most Christian Bibles.  It has been called by some a book of skepticism.  Others see it as one of the most profound and erudite books that has ever been written.  Much of the writing in this book reminds me of the Shakespeare passage in Macbeth wherein he says:

“Out, out, brief candle!  Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  ― William ShakespeareMacbeth

vanities“Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity,” says the Preacher at the beginning of Ecclesiastes.  In some sense echoing the same sentiments as Macbeth, Ecclesiastes tells us of the folly of wealth, riches, power, fame and even wisdom.  Herein lies the great paradox in EcclesiastesEcclesiastes is a book of wisdom which has the audacity and temerity to decry the power of wisdom.  Whereas most tomes praise the power of wisdom to solve all the evils of the world, to Ecclesiastes, wisdom is also just another vanity.

“I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly.  I perceived that this also is but striving after the wind.”  — Ecclesiastes

dissipationIf power, riches, fame and wisdom are folly to pursue, that would seem to leave us with only pleasure left as a goal of life.  A sybaritic existence of hedonistic pursuits measured by the wine, women and song we have endured.  Epicurus said: It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly.  And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.”  The Hedonist position has often been criticized starting with Socrates and Plato who felt that a Hedonist was endorsing a doctrine that was contradictory to right living (see Plato’s Gorgias).

Just when it might seem we have a goal in life that can be mutually satisfying for everyone, Ecclesiastes says:  “I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.  But behold, this also was vanity.”

Everything is vanity.  If Saint Ignatius was right in proclaiming that “ingratitude” is the fountain of all sins, Ecclesiastes shows us that the other side of the coin is vanity.  Rich or poor, wise man or fool, famous or obscure, death will take us all and care not one whit about our history.  “How the wise man dies just like the fool!” – Ecclesiastes

Another book which I think has a great deal in common with Ecclesiastes was written by Max Stirner and is called “The Ego and Its Own.”  Stirner (a 19th Century German philosopher) has been labeled a nihilist for the pessimism he exudes in this book.  For instance, Stirner says:

Man, your head is haunted; you have wheels in your head! You imagine great things, and depict to yourself a whole world of gods that has an existence for you, a spirit-realm to which you suppose yourself to be called, an ideal that beckons to you. You have a fixed idea!  Do not think that I am jesting or speaking figuratively when I regard those persons who cling to the Higher, and (because the vast majority belongs under this head) almost the whole world of men, as veritable fools, fools in a madhouse.” — (The Ego and Its Own, New York 1907, p. 54)

You may well ask “what is the difference between nihilism and skepticism?”  One answer to this question which I found on the Internet is as follows:

“Skepticism is a critical attitude, orientation or outlook towards a proposition or a thesis.  It typically is characterized by doubt about, or at least dubiousness towards, its substantive truth value.”

nihilism“Nihilism, on the other hand is an attitude, orientation or outlook of indifference towards a proposition or thesis.  The nihilist refuses to engage in an epistemological process of examination, discovery or analysis into its truth value.”

These definitions and more about the differences between these two concepts can be found at http://phenomenologicalpsychology.com/2011/03/what-is-the-difference-between-skepticism-and-nihilism/

Ecclesiastes skepticalTo sum the differences up in my own words, skeptics doubt everything while nihilists do not give a damn about anything.  Some would describe nihilism as extreme skepticism.  Hence, reading the works I noted above might lead you down either path.  You could decide that nothing is worth doing since there is no truth or value in anything we can accomplish so why bother.  Or else you could decide that you simply do not care about the world so why bother with any of its myriad blandishments.  I somehow think both paths might ultimately bring you to the same place.

meaninglessThere are many people who believe that the world is nothing but a mad house and that we are all inmates in one large global asylum.  My father often said that heaven and hell were both on earth and that it was our choice which one we lived in.  As Yoda noted in Star Wars we make a choice whether to go to the dark side or the light side.  Of course, a determinist would say we have no choice, that fate or life has already determined which choice we have to make.  I am constantly at odds with a good friend of mine who has staked this position out for his life and decisions.  In some ways, it is very difficult to refute.  I can refute all of his arguments but at the same time, I can refute all of my arguments against his arguments.  This leads me to the inexorable conclusion that life is more complex than I can explain or understand.  My trying to understand it is my own particular brand of vanity and folly.

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.” –YODA, (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace)

If we do have a choice, then I think we have two coins to choose between.  We can choose a coin of ingratitude and vanity, perhaps this is the dark side or we can also choose a coin of gratitude and humility. Is this latter choice, the light side?  Jesus said:

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

It is kind of amazing when you think about it how many people today are guilty of unbridled arrogance and hubris.  Does that mean that more people are choosing the dark side than the light side?  My friend would argue that they have no choice.

prideWhen I was young I was taught that “Pride goes before a fall.”  It would seem to be an aphorism that too many of our leaders and people in positions of power have forgotten.  Some people believe that this lack of humility comes because we have forgotten God.  It reminds me of the stories in the Bible about the Israelites in the desert who had to be taught again and again that it was God who was the instrument of their salvation.  As soon as a little time went by, they would forget the help that they had been given and begin to ignore God and act arrogantly.  You don’t have to believe in a God to have this problem.

money is meaninglessWe are all much like the Israelites.  We forget the little people that helped us.  We forget the people that looked out for us or assisted us when we were in need.  We begin to think that we are smarter, stronger, wiser and better than other people.  We develop a mythology that attributes all of our success to our own self-discipline and hard work.  It is true that even Thomas Jefferson believed that luck comes from hard work, but it is also true that all the things that we will ever attain in life can be at least partially attributed to the support we have received from other people.  The Beatles set it well with their song:

I get by with a little help from my friends.  (Click here to hear the entire song)

So what would Ecclesiastes say about the folly of arrogance and pride?  I borrow from my wife’s Revised Standard Version of the Bible dated 1952 for the following:

“In my vain life I have seen everything; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil doing.  Be not righteous overmuch and do not make yourself over wise; why should you destroy yourself?  Be not wicked overmuch, neither be a fool; why should you die before your time.”  Ecclesiastes 7:15-17

This passage was from Karen’s confirmation Bible which she received when she was 13 years old.  She still has the Bible and has highlighted, annotated and nearly worn the binding out from much usage.  I am proud to say that my wife is one Christian who reads the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelations and everything in between.  We often have discussions on the meaning of certain passages and I respect her belief in Christianity as she respects my agnosticism.  We both respect Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Buddha and many other prophets whose wise words have guided us in our lives.

I conclude with some advice knowing full well the old adage “Never give advice. Wise men don’t need it and fools will not heed it.”  Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in my breast and I must break with the aforementioned sage advice to offer the following:

  1. Believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see. Our senses are deceiving.
  2. Take science and religion both with a grain of salt. Today’s wisdom will be tomorrow’s folly.
  3. Regard both the expert and the idiot with a healthy bit of skepticism.

Time for Questions:

Have you ever read Ecclesiastes?  What is your view of this book?  What wisdom in it do you pay attention to in your life?  What follies do you fall prey to?  Have you found a way to avoid vanity?  How do you do so?  What advice from this book would you give others?

Life is just beginning.

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  — Martin Luther King, Jr.
 

%d bloggers like this: