[The OLD] Attempting Elegance

Passion Quilt : Question everything

Posted in Libraries, Musings, Off Topic by Jenica Rogers on April 27, 2008

Amanda has tagged me with the passion quilt meme:

Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.

Well, that’s easy.

Original image from here.

Friday was my father‘s birthday; he would have been 59. Since he’s not around to tell his stories anymore, I tell them for him, and about him. One of the stories I tell of him is that when I was a teenager, he told me “you need to learn the rules… so you know which ones you can break.” On the one hand, that was just my counter-culture father encouraging me to be a revolutionary with him. But on the other hand, he was endorsing in me the notion that I was smart, and savvy, and capable of advanced reasoning, and therefore I needed to understand the structure of authority so that I could understand why we did the things we did the way we did them… and then agitate for change, if change was appropriate.

Or, coming at it from another direction, he taught me, over and over through words, actions, and questions, to never accept an answer at face value unless you trusted its source. Always ask more questions. Always work to understand. Always consider motivations and goals. Always consider biases. Always consider power structures.

Always question authority.

So I did, and I do. I don’t always do it openly, because for me the value of the exhortation is not just as “fight the power!” rhetoric, and isn’t in an in-your-face attack on The Man. I consider it instead to be a critical thinking skill, a means of understanding the world we operate in, a way to deconstruct our habits and our beliefs and find the places where they have meaning and the places where they fall flat.

And I wish more people did the same. I wish they looked at the street signs telling them, in minute detail, where they can and cannot park and when they can and cannot do so, and considered why, asking who has the authority to declare that to be true, and what their motivations were when they declared it. I wish more people looked at the Iraq war statistics and budgets and considered what motivated the authorities who declared that war, and wondered why they did so, and then voted their consciences. I wish more people looked at library policies and goals and asked why they exist the way they do, wondering who set the policy, what motivated them at that time, and what may have changed since then, before accepting or challenging them wholesale. I wish more people bumped up against rigid management structures and thought about how they were formed, what made them the way they are, and considered what good and bad they cause, and then agitated for change.

So, go out there. Question authority, question everything, and gather information. Think carefully. Think critically. Synthesize, understand, and learn. And then? Then you can act. And maybe break a few rules.

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9 Responses

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  1. […] The lovely Jenica and Dorothea chime in as well with their take. These are all amazing, and if I taught at a Library […]

  2. chadwick said, on April 28, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Jenica,
    How very beautiful. A wonderful tribute to a wise man. I’m in tears as I read this and am so glad you shared this and were able to put it in context as well. I believe that he did a great job raising you and teaching you to think critically. My own father encouraged me to think for myself, but in the end I think it took me in directions other than he would have preferred.

    I put a “Question Authority” bumper sticker on my truck back in ’99 along with a some others about encouraging “positive change”. Even though my father and I disagree on just about everything related to politics and religion, he liked my stickers.

    I’m so glad you have those qualities and memories. Thinking of you & your Dad today and hoping my boys have similar memories of me when they’re older. :-)

  3. Jenica said, on April 28, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Chadwick, thank you. I’m comforted by the fact that he lives on, all over the place, in the memories people have of him and his ideas. The Saturday of CiL was the 4 year anniversary of his death, and as I sat with a really awesome group of librarians drinking beer in the hotel bar, I thought, “He would have liked that I do this thing and know these people.”

    Not to get all maudlin. But I miss my dad. It happens. I’d rather miss him than not miss him, in the end.

    And I’m positive you’re giving your own boys that same kind of message — how could you not?! :)

  4. Matt said, on April 28, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Your title is right, your picture is wrong: “Question Everything” … including but not limited to authority. :)

  5. thedonofpages said, on April 30, 2008 at 12:07 am

    One problem is that over time, a rule becomes more important than the reason for the rule. It is easier to follow the rule than to figure out the reason for the rule. Eventually, no one remembers the reason for the rule, but the rule will be enforced anyway. Something that is done wrong long enough becomes right, because that is the way it has always been done. To do different than that way invites admonishment. These are not thoughts of mine, but conclusions based on my experiences. Fortunately for you, I have to get some sleep so I will be ready for work tomorrow. Otherwise, I would be tempted to bore you with those experiences. Don’t just knee-jerk “Question authority”. The goal is improvement, not mere confrontation. Understand the why so you can find a better conclusion.

  6. Jenica said, on April 30, 2008 at 9:19 am

    Don’t just knee-jerk “Question authority”. The goal is improvement, not mere confrontation.

    Don, that’s exactly what I meant when I wrote “the value of the exhortation is not just as “fight the power!” rhetoric, and isn’t in an in-your-face attack on The Man. I consider it instead to be a critical thinking skill, a means of understanding the world we operate in, a way to deconstruct our habits and our beliefs and find the places where they have meaning and the places where they fall flat.”

    Questioning authority isn’t effective when it means being the irritating person who just criticizes everything — it’s useful when it means being the person who internally questions and analyzes everything so that they can decide when to openly challenge or support an issue or process.

  7. Matt said, on May 2, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Oh no, you didn’t just equate “questioning” with “criticizing” did you? Ohhhhhhhh you did. :(

  8. Matt said, on May 2, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    No you didn’t… *Removing foot from mouth with much force*


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