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Teaching What’s Important

Ernest Wiggins

Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Merton once wrote, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

It seems that we are taught from childhood our value is on how much we mean to others and not based on our intrinsic worth as human beings in the universe.

This thinking is reinforced throughout life by judgment or expectations about whom we choose to partner with, if we have children, what they become, the kind of work we do for pay, what we do with our time off, what our obituary says about whom we leave behind, and what the bank says about how much we left.

This benefits society much more than it does the person, to keep us all churning and striving, baiting and bickering.

It doesn’t speak to or for those who choose no partners or not to be parents; who work quietly in jobs that don't blare; who prefer solitude, lonely pursuits; whose obits are brief, leavings spare.

The term "important person" has meaning, suggesting its antonym "unimportant person" does too, and that might be the crux of our modern distresses. We're trying hard NOT to be "unimportant."

Making Time

As a senior at the University of South Carolina in the mid-70s, I attended a conference where I ran into an older student from the University of Georgia I had met at a previous conclave.

We'd gotten along well at the earlier event, and I had promised to keep in touch but didn't. When I apologized for failing to do so, he smiled weakly and said, "We make time for what's important."

I took his remark as a rebuke of sorts but couldn't deny the truth of it. Over the 40 intervening years, the truth has become "truer," if possible.

We would spare one another much misery if we allowed that truth to rule the day and not rage against it to show associates their "distance" DOES NOT mean we have become less important to them.

Conversely, we might forgive ourselves when time and distance grow between those involved in what we once believed were deeply rooted, venerable relationships.

We resist because popular culture, known for pushing fresh and new, makes a big deal out of constancy from BFFs to Botox.

Sometimes it's hard to shake the feeling that change is bad - especially when people are involved. Change is constant. Even mountains erode and we all know stagnant pools are poison.

Making Friends

I wonder what parenting will be like in the coming years as walls around young people get higher and thicker.

Parents used to urge their children to pick their friends carefully and have all kinds.

All of us used to imagine how emotionally healthy, well-rounded children were, how successful they would be, how much they would contribute to the well-being of the community, and what good parents themselves would make if they chose to be parents.

I know those desires remain for many of us, but will they be more difficult to achieve as our children's minds get locked down? Remember that chilling Radio Free Europe ad from the '70s, the young boy repeating the words of an off-screen voice, a chain and lock around his head (1970s 16mm TV Commercial PSA - Radio Free Europe - YouTube)?

In my mind, one thing will remain true for children and adults: It’s important to choose friends who choose us. These tips are offered by Very Well Mind.

  • If you're always the one reaching out...
  • If they're not excited to hear from you or to spend time with you...
  • If they frequently cancel plans...
  • If they don't engage with you on social media, just lurk...
  • If they only talk about themselves...

If they consider other things more important, they are probably not interested in being friends. I think it’s important to move on. They weren’t meant to be a part of our journey to happiness and fulfillment.

©Photo by PRNewsFoto/St. Bonaventure University

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About the blogger

Ernest Wiggins, Writer / Independent Scholar

Ernest L. Wiggins is a professor emeritus of journalism and mass communications at the University of South Carolina. For nearly 30 years, Wiggins taught professional journalism, news media, and community engagement, public opinion and persuasion, and mass media criticism, among other courses.

His research interests focused on mass media’s representation of marginalized communities, primarily news agencies. A native of Washington, D.C., Wiggins was a reporter and editor at the Columbia Record and The State newspapers before joining the faculty at USC, where he earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees.

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