Speaks at Barnard
Personal identity shines brighter
when viewed through Mary Catherine Bateson’s words. “We are not what we
know but what we are willing to learn,” she once said.
Parts of oneself shift into focus when considered in the light
of her work.
Ms. Bateson is a writer and cultural
anthropologist who has written and co-authored numerous books
and articles. Full Circles,
Overlapping Lives is her most
recent book. Composing a Life is best known. She is the daughter
of Margaret Mead, the most famous anthropologist the world
has ever known. Recently, Ms. Bateston spoke at her mother’s
alma mater, Barnard College.
She came to speak about Composing
a Life, education issues and personal commitment. But first
things first, Ms. Bateson, currently a Visiting Professor
at Harvard Graduate School of Education, asked that the podium
be replaced with a small table. After the table was covered
with a blue cloth she hopped on, preparing to deepen the
audience’s understanding of life.
She began with institutions of higher
learning. Just as there are health maintenance organizations,
colleges, she argued, “should
think of themselves as learning maintenance organizations.” Their
role is not to prepare adults for jobs but rather “maintain,
broaden and deepen our curiosity throughout our life cycle.”
She should know about developing the mind throughout life.
She is, after all, on a sixth career. She recently retired
as Clarence J. Robinson Professor in Anthropology and English
at George Mason University and is president of the Institute
for Intercultural Studies in New York City.
“When I sat down and wrote Composing
a Life the problem
that I was grappling with was the discontinuities in my own
life, some of which had to do with being a woman,” she
told the audience. “I got my doctorate in Middle Eastern
studies and linguistics, writing on classical Arabic poetry,
right? And [my husband] took a job in Manila.”
Composing a Life addresses changes
in women’s lives
due to marriage, childbirth, chauvinism and other factors.
Continuing learning and curiosity are necessary resources to
meet these challenges, Ms. Bateson says.
“I really believe that the place to be in this world
that’s so diverse and so rapidly changing and so unpredictable
is to be unremittingly curious and trying to understand and
never say, ‘I have come to a final clear understanding.’”
The very dilemma that many women face, trying to balance multiple
commitments, is actually a tremendous strength, Ms. Bateson
says. It helps to broaden understanding and resist oversimplification
Ms. Bateson rejects the metaphor
of juggling responsibilities. She says it is “trivializing.”
“If you tell me that my efforts to live a rich, complicated,
creative life count as juggling, what are you telling me? First
you’re telling me I’m going to drop something.”
The audience laughed. In her closing
remarks she spoke about the importance of reflection. “Experience doesn’t
make you wise. Thinking about experience is what makes you
wise,” she said. “What we do in classrooms is what
sets the stage for this process of growing, complexifying,
balancing and reflecting.”#