Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Every morning I read the NEW YORK TIMES online. This morning I read this essay, about a counselor who works with the mentally ill. He had gone to Andover and Harvard, expecting to have a lucrative career as a lawyer or doctor (or the other part of the triumvirate, investment banker--just a guess). Instead, affliction with obsessive-compulsive disorder led him to his present career.

This article angered me. And just yesterday I was thinking (after reading the class notes in the Vassar alumnae magazine) that so many of my college classmates have gone into law and banking or medicine, and I suspect many have done so out of a need/desire for wealth and privilege that goes with it. Why did the author of the essay embark on a career of service, without the promise of wealth, only after realizing he was ill? Why do so many graduates of elite schools go into business and banking and law? What happened to altruism? I can't imagine that too many people go into investment banking out of a great love of the profession. In explaining his choice as the result of an encounter with illness, the author implies that it takes some personal experience of misfortune (in this case mental illness, which itself is stigmatized) to inspire one to help others. Also implied is that to be altruistic, to help others, is in some way a denial of the "rewards" of a more "conventional" elite career.

I am at the age where many of my college classmates have acquired expensive homes, automobiles, and such; they have embraced bourgeois values, and I should not be surprised. But it makes me sad. The world would be a better place--or at least this country--if more people devoted themselves not to the pursuit of wealth and material things, but to making sure that all people are able to live a decent life, even if it means sacrificing some of your own (excessive) comforts.

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