With my second semester back at school kicking off (I am enrolled in a dual Master of Public Administration/Master of Integrated Global Communications program), my ever-pressing need to get more organized has become even more…pressing. It’s not enough to have to fit in weekly readings and online quizzes into my life, I also have papers, presentations and additional readings on my plate. But really, it’s exciting to be in a classroom again (two classes a semester), exchanging ideas and kick-starting long dormant brain cells…and so enjoy when I can connect something I am learning to other parts of my life.
This past fall’s course on quantitative and qualitative research added to the swirl of thoughts in my head about how we think about people. As I’ve blogged about in the past, individual stories and perspectives matter. Outliers shouldn’t be dismissed, but should raise awareness that one size doesn’t fit all, and that generalities, while convenient, aren’t always helpful or true.
The second class I took last semester, on the foundations of public service, pointed out the different goals, values and skill sets of administrators and bureaucrats in the trenches versus those of the elected officials running their departments and agencies. This struck me in even starker terms as I look at the cabinet and at those chosen to head different federal departments.
This semester, I am learning about public service budgeting, about the complexities that go into creating an annual budget for any level of government. And while it is a given that horse-trading plays a part, it was to me less obvious the sheer amount of knowledge that ought to go into a thoughtfully created and voted on budget. It is actually quite disturbing to think how much legislators and their staffers would have to learn to be able to vote intelligently. Even line item represents a myriad of decisions made by a myriad of people. When I lived in Israel, every year the then-State Comptroller and Ombudsman, Miriam Ben-Porat, would come out with her annual report. I remember seeing much news coverage (and public attention) about the findings; it seemed as if each year the report focused on a different area of wasteful and inefficient government. From its website, I seet the office actually carries out many audits. More importantly, its reports are brought back to the audited bodies with a request for how they intend to rectify shortcomings. I may be mistaken, but it appears to me that the United States Government Accountability Office operates differently; the GAO creates reports (only?) upon request for Congress. I’ve not been aware that their open database of recommendations (numbering in the thousands!) gets the same kind of public attention. Bottom line, is budgeting is not only complicated, it is cumbersome. And the larger and larger our federal deficit grows, the more depressing it is to think about the world we are leaving our children.
In my communications in multinational corporations class, the first class I am enrolled in for the Integrated Global Communications track of my program, we are beginning with systems theory in nature, applying it to man-made organizations. In one video on complex systems, birds fly in beautiful patterns, leading to the topic of swarm engineering, where individuals follow their own rules and yet work together, giving inspiration for designing systems…and I can’t help but wonder if this could be applied to lasso’ing together the collective energy of individuals and small groups of grassroots activists to create movements, be it “resisters” here in the United States or those wanting a solution that will lead to peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.
But it’s not only classes I am taking now that spill over into life. Last night, I watched the 1960 movie Exodus, about 611 Jewish refugees from post-Holocaust Europe that the British wouldn’t let into Palestine, and about the founding of the state. And I remember how impactful reading that book for a 10th grade English assignment truly was. Truly, I credit Leon Uris (and my Israeli uncle) as the reasons driving my desire to see and experience Israel. And when I traveled there a number of years later, I knew that I’d found where I wanted to live. Ultimately, I did move to Israel and lived in Jerusalem for over a decade.
Classes we take, books we read, people we meet (especially teachers) all have the power to expose us to ideas that can carry us and our lives in different directions than we might have planned. It doesn’t require uprooting oneself and moving across the ocean for this to be true. But it does require listening and thinking, finding connections and forging new paths to see where these thoughts will take us. And right now, as I begin traveling down this new road that links what I learn and what I live, I have to say that while not having an end point in view can be unnerving, I am truly enjoying the journey.