I learned something else in Texas, but also on the way there and back. The other NIC faculty members that received awards and that are featured in this NIC Press Release, are people who can be justly proud of their achievements. I was honoured to stand among them during the Awards Ceremonies and to share meals and time with them when we weren’t involved in ‘official awards business.’ I worked (and travelled lately) with a bunch of dedicated, caring, hardworking and quirky people. Quirkiness is a very positive character attribute in my mind. To be quirky means to leave the rules of the game on the sidelines when it’s appropriate. It means doing things tangentially sometimes or obliquely, avoiding the frontal, rulebook approach to practice and behaviour. Rules are made to be broken as long as a greater ‘care’ is to be achieved. I can say that many of my colleagues put students first. If that makes them quirky, well, we need to celebrate that. The NISOD celebration of excellence and the conference in Austin are a celebration of quirkiness. I shared a room with 1200 other quirky people last week. I’m happy to be counted among them.
Well, we were in Texas a mere 4 days. Not a lot of time to gather a very sophisticated impression of the place or the people. Still, because I was there to collect my award medallion of excellence from NISOD, the National Institute for Organizational and Staff Development, we got to meet people from all over the United States and parts of Canada. Over 1200 people received awards and over 2000 attended the conference that was held in conjunction with the Awards Ceremonies. To a large extent, all the people we met in the conference rooms, breakout sessions, exhibition hall, out on the streets and in the restaurants, basically wherever we went, the people were no different than what one might find walking the streets of Vancouver. Most people are polite, honest, mind their own business and keep to themselves. Like people everywhere they are absorbed in their daily lives, trying to make a living or leave a trace on this planet by doing something worthwhile and significant. All want to be heroes to some extent, recognized by their fellow human beings, looked up to if possible, but at least not denigrated and diminished. We met a young man, a waiter in a restaurant, who we engaged in conversation. He was not only a waiter, but a concert musician and new music writer. He beamed when we acknowledged the value of his endeavours and wished him luck while promising to visit his website. On our last day there, we stopped for coffee at the Café Crêpe, a small coffee shop attached to our hotel. I realized that this was a French themed establishment, but I was surprised a little to find out that the owner spoke impeccable French. He told me in French that he had arrived in Austin when he was 22 years old, decades earlier, and had stayed to work and make a life although he returned to France 3 to 4 times a year until 9/11 when he reduced his travel because of new travel restrictions. Another young man we met in a thrift shop upon learning that we were Canadians (I tell most people we meet, it’s a great ice breaker.) told us that although he lived his whole life in Austin, he always wanted to move to Quebec City. He asked us what we knew about Quebec Cite and if we thought moving there would be a good idea. Of course, we said. It’s a cliché, but everyone has a story, or many stories. Everyone wants their story or stories to mean something. If there’s a universal human characteristic, that’s it. If there’s a point to the NISOD Awards Ceremony, that’s it.
Of course, that’s not all I learned in Texas. Aside from any commentary I might make on people I met in Austin, I was struck by the construction of condominium towers going up in the downtown area. Whole neighbourhoods are being bulldozed, making way for new construction. I was told that there will be 25,000 more people living in the downtown core of Austin in 5 years than there are now. It’s a city growing at a two-digit rate. Given the state of the American economy, Austin has to be an exception. The freeway and highway systems are extensive and traffic moves well, to a large extent. We took a tour outside of downtown one day and I was impressed by the number of over and underpasses, but I also thought about how much it would cost to maintain them. I heard more than once how high taxes were in Texas. It’s amazing how seldom people actually make a correlation between the services they receive from the state and the amount of tax they pay. Somehow, they think that they should not have to pay any taxes while still enjoying all the benefits they take for granted every day of their lives that are provided by the state. People are strange. That’s another thing I learned in Texas.
I learned a lot more in Texas, of course and I’ll get around to writing more about it soon. If you have any questions about my time there, leave a commentary. Ask away.