Why an Autobiography

I feel it is worthwhile for me to give some consideration to the question of why spend time writing an autobiography.  Writing an autobiography is an egotistical act.  Why would anyone be interested in my hitch-hiking around the US at age 16 or heading off to South America with a bicycle at age 18?  Would the reader find it entertaining?  Is that my role now, to entertain the younger generation?  I don’t think so.  I have too much else yet to do of a positive nature to take time to entertain others.

Perhaps, though, at age 90 after years of adventure, study and social action I might have some practical thoughts on the sociology of communities and the requirements of social change.  Above I note that writing an autobiography is an egotistical act.  One needs a strong ego, a positive sense of one’s self worth, to put into writing one’s life story with a sense that such an enterprise is worth while.  Often, when teaching classes in the Sociology Department at Western Washington University, I would tell stories about my experiences in my travels.  In every case they were to explain a principle or show how one paradigm was more useful than another to understand the existential situation I was describing.  I was not telling those stories to entertain but rather to give meaning to concepts, paradigms and theories.  I will attempt to do so herein.  The key word above is “use.”   The story is to be measured by its use value rather than by its entertainment value.  It is not to show that there is a right or wrong way to engage in social action but rather to indicate that one way might be more useful than the other.  Given that orientation I want my autobiography to be useful.  If it is also entertaining or merely interesting, so be it.  That is for the reader to judge.

I will be giving a lot of space to my early childhood as I feel those experiences and that family and cultural environment had a significant impact on who I am and my world view.  Today a lot of folks say  “You don’t look 89.  You look more like you are 60 or possibly 65.  What is your secret?”   I respond saying “There are two parts to my secret.  The first is to choose your grandparents carefully and the second is to take care of what they give you”.  The same is true of one’s values, one’s world view (see the last paragraph below), one’s sense of the spiritual.  The fact that every Christmas, as far back as I can remember, my mother gave us books dealing with Jan in Holland, Pierre in France, Gretchen in Germany, etc, etc. led to my developing a global world view (weltanschauung) and ultimately entering the US diplomatic service and later becoming Director of International Programs at Western Washington University.  Understanding other peoples, nations and cultures was part of my growing up and it began at a very early age.

It is not my intention that my autobiography becomes a road map for any other person except in the most general way.  The most basic advice I have to offer to the youth of our nation to get the hell out of the USA for a minimum of six months or better yet, for a year or two. One does not know what it is to be an American if one has never experienced life in another country.  Go alone.  If one goes with an English speaking companion one will never learn what it is to be totally dependent on persons of another culture.  It will force one to learn the other language and their culture.