Not even close.
Sure, I knew a lot about mathematics. Not as much as you might think I should, but I could at one time speak with authority about things with fancy names such as fields and rings and homology and functions and Hilbert spaces and fixed point theorems and graph theory and a host of other mathematical subjects I needed to know in order to pass an oral exam.
But I didn’t have the vaguest understanding of some extremely important concepts. My education had barely begun.
A major shift came two years after my formal education ended. I had gotten a job I loved and realized I was extremely lucky. I’d had a privileged life of the middle class with loving parents, a good local school system, and encouragement to go to college. I felt I should pay back somehow.
Where I lived there was an organization called the Volunteer Service Bureau. It had a book you could thumb through listing all the organizations needing help. I devoured it, looking for an activity that, in my arrogance, would be significant. I didn’t want to stuff envelopes, important as that is. Two organizations jumped at me.
We Care was a suicide prevention and crisis intervention agency where volunteers answered phones from distraught callers, or even went for personal visits with desperate individuals.
Teen Hotline was a similar organization designed for young people. I figured that would be okay because I was only a teenage number of years away from being a teenager myself.
I didn’t realize, until I called them to volunteer, that they were the same organization with different phone numbers. My call turned into a 22-year association that ended only when the “powers that be” in their lack of wisdom decided it should be staffed by professionals, not volunteers. That decision killed the organization because what most people needed was a caring, not a professional, voice.
It was also what I needed. Because I learned a lot, and my education soared.
I learned during that time the sound bites so frequently heard just weren’t true. If the welfare queen in a Cadillac existed somewhere, I never saw her. If someone was having financial problems, it didn’t mean they weren’t working hard at two or more low paying jobs. Being gay didn’t mean being immoral. Having mental health problems didn’t mean weakness of character.
For the first time I developed associations with Blacks, gays, Hispanics and many others. They enhanced my life and I came to realize how much people gave up by excluding diverse groups from their lives. I know my own has been enriched beyond measure by such contacts.
I entered We Care/Teen Hotline a Republican and emerged a moderate left leaning liberal where I remain.
Wonderful as that experience was, I was still an individual with much to learn.
I hope I have matured a bit as a result of the protests that have followed the murder of George Floyd. While I can never come close to understanding the fear of being someone targeted by police simply because of the color of one’s skin, I am beginning to appreciate the reality of the situation. I cannot imagine the courage it takes to live under such conditions for one’s entire life. I hope real change is possible.
I, and many others, still have so much to learn.