Jamie recently participated in an interview meme that is currently making the rounds of the blogosphere. I volunteered to be interviewed by her in turn, in part because I was curious to see whether she would take the opportunity to pin me to the wall on my heterodox theology.
Jamie defends traditional Christian doctrines that I tend to problematize. But in her own way, she wrestles with the same questions that preoccupy me. I guess that’s why she has been a faithful long-term reader, although I’m sure I exasperate her at times. For the record, I have a lot of respect for her intelligence and for her reluctance to settle for pat answers to thorny questions.
As it turned out, she didn’t go for the jugular as I feared she might.
1. If you could go for some other dream career besides the line of work you’re currently in, what would it be?
First, a word on my current career. I work for the Government of Canada: specifically Health Canada, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch. I don’t blog about it because most of the documents that cross my desk are “secret” — confidential documents on their way to Cabinet ministers.
I am a policy analyst, involved in the negotiation of land claim and self-government agreements with Canada’s aboriginal communities. The negotiations are led by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, but I participate in determining the scope of the health component of the agreements. My proudest achievement thus far has been the conclusion of the Labrador Inuit Association agreement, which took effect in December 2005. Last year, we concluded negotiations on three agreements in British Columbia, but they haven’t been ratified yet.
The point is, I’m not eager to change careers. All the work I have done for the past twenty years has had a social justice angle to it. That is my “dream career” in a general sense.
We won’t know the impact of these self-government agreements until some decades have passed, but I can say this much with confidence: the status quo isn’t working, either for aboriginals or non-aboriginal Canadians, and we’re implementing a different approach. Maybe it will constitute a breakthrough, but that’s not within my control.
I’m satisfied that this is a worthy “social justice” initiative, and I’m proud to be part of it. I’m not sure anything else would make more of a practical difference than this initiative has the potential to do.
But I’ll quit dodging the question now. I’ve often thought it would be neat to be a journalist. If I could earn a living by writing, I would be seriously tempted. “Rock star” would tempt me too, but I lack musical talent, a sexy physique, and charisma, dammit! Hence I’m eminently suited for policy analysis.
2. If you were an inventor, what would you invent?
I would invent a new drug which would enable people to see the world from someone else’s perspective temporarily. You would use it in conflict resolution, or when seeking consensus on an intractable, contentious social issue. If you took it, you would understand an issue from within the perspective of the other party to the dialogue, just for an hour or two. Then you would revert to your own perspective, but a little chastened and wiser.
Either that, or I would invent a pill that would turn me into a flashy guitarist with a sexy physique and oodles of charisma. Then who knows, Jamie, my first stop might be your house.
3. Have you ever broken a bone? If so, what’s the story?
An interesting shot in the dark, but I’ve never broken a bone.
I hit myself in the nose with a tennis racquet once when the ball took a funny hop. I made a reflexive, lightning-quick adjustment to get my racquet on the ball, but my nose got in the way. I still have a scar to show for it.
4. Looking back on your life, of what are you most proud?
It would have been easier if you asked me what personal history embarrasses me. I could have written five thousand words on that topic, easily. I regularly flash back to specific moments from my past with acute embarrassment, whatever that says about me.
What am I proudest of? Of demonstrating courage of a particular sort: “courage to change the things I can” (here quoting the prayer of serenity).
When I was in my mid-thirties, I reached a point of personal crisis. I had made a few key decisions in the naivety of my youth that led me to a regrettable place years later. I felt trapped, and I spent four years in what I would describe as a low-grade depression.
The only way out was to make radical changes of a sort that would actually make the crisis worse in the short term. That’s often the way of it: you have to pass through chaos on your way to producing order, per Genesis 1.
But to bite that bullet takes a lot of courage, particularly when you’re depressed. First, you have to find a reason for hope: some end goal that will motivate and sustain you through a season of painful turmoil. Even when there is a little light glimmering at the end of the tunnel, many people lack the courage to act.
Acting necessarily involved wholesale change: a crisis of faith that I am still working through, a divorce, a change of career, the loss of virtually every friend I had at the time. My family supported me, with misgivings: my Dad was afraid I was having a breakdown and he suffered nightmares about it.
It doesn’t sound like something to be proud of, and there’s embarrassment (even shame) in the mix. But the results are in, eleven years later. The nay-sayers (who were legion) have been proven wrong. I’m newly remarried, still in relationship with my children (which was no small struggle for some while) pleased about my new career, with better long term financial prospects, and enjoying my relentless inquiry into questions of faith and philosophy.
Most importantly, I am “at home in my own skin”. That was the fundamental issue eleven years ago: the life I was in was ill-suited to the person I am. I’m proud that I had the courage to do something about it, and fight through to a good result.
Note: Jamie has a fifth question for me, but I’m going to address it in a separate post.