The Village Idiom

Some time in my past, I had a girlfriend who had, as one of her life’s goals, a desire to “make her mark” professionally.  This was kind of an alien concept to me . . . I’ve never been driven in that way.  In fact, it took me a while just to realize she wasn’t talking about some really good bourbon but was instead focused on getting some recognition in her field.

Nowadays, I rarely hear of that kind of aspiration.  Probably, because most of my contemporaries have already made their mark or have come to terms with it not happening.  Or more likely, they never had that as a goal in the first place. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I even heard that expression.

But what I have heard lately. . .  and  pretty often for that matter, is the term, “giving back”.  It seems that now, everyone and his brother is “giving back”.   As I think about it, I bet that all those people “giving back” have probably “made their mark” in one way or another.  Apparently, there’s a connection.

There's even a logo for it

There’s even a logo for it

There are a number of reasons I sound a bit cynical about what seems like a spirit of generosity.  For starters, I hate the term;  it’s way too trendy (right up there with “rescue dog”) and I’m sure it will be replaced in a year or so by something I dislike even more.  But the primary reason I don’t like hearing it is that it makes me feel very guilty. Guilty that I may be a slacker who is too self-absorbed.

I was having a conversation with my friend Nnelg over lunch recently about this very thing.  To relieve my guilt, I suggested to him that maybe I had already “given back” without even realizing it.  I noted that back when I was a real estate developer doing co-op conversions I had created lots of housing for people.  Actual homes for people to live in.  Nnelg asked if it was affordable housing.  I pointed out that all of the apartments had sold, so the buyers must have been able to afford them.  He said that wasn’t the affordable housing he was referring to.  I guess I can see his point.

The feeling of being a societal freeloader continued weighing on me up until about a week or so ago when I read an article in The Times about the winners of the 2015 Lasker Awards.  (The Lasker awards, which are sometimes referred to as “America’s Nobels” have been awarded annually since 1945 to living persons who have made major contributions to medical science or who have performed public service on behalf of medicine.)  One of the winners was Evelyn M. Witkin a bacterial geneticist at Rutgers University.  Professor Witkin is 94.  Yes, that’s right, she’s both “making her mark” and “giving back”,  all while well into her 10th decade.

Reading this was a tremendous relief to me.  Evidently, I have oodles of time to figure out how, when and how much I’m going to give back. And when I do, I’m not going to keep it a secret.  I’d like my family to hear about it and be proud of me.  Especially my kids.  By the way, did I mention that my kids are “rescue children”?


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