Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, currently President of Caltech, abhors the balanced life. He thinks it is destroying America.
Baltimore appeared last night on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point to discuss “America’s Lag in the Sciences.” His main point is a familiar one: the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in math and science education, and we will ultimately pay the price in a reduced standard of living. While I have several objections to Baltimore’s views, some of which I touch on briefly at Conglomerate, in this forum I would like to draw attention to Baltimore’s disdain for the balanced life. His recent editorial in the LA Times contains the following:
I think that the major failure is our inability as parents to pass on our culture to our children. I say “inability” because I truly believe that parents want to do better but do not know how. One reason is the downgrading of family life in the two-wage-earner home, another is the speed with which technology changes how kids spend their lives and how people communicate; yet another is a lack of will when it comes to imposing discipline on children. And one that particularly galls me is the denigration of the word “stress.”
When I grew up, we worked hard, played hard and never thought to minimize our activities because of stress. Sure, people were under stress and some cracked under it, but leading a “stressful” life was honored because of the accomplishments that could be achieved by those who could handle it. Today we deify the spa, not late hours solving problems at school or work. Caltech’s high-achieving faculty and students are seen as weirdos because of their intense focus, but even here, some graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are seeking a more balanced life.
I don’t know about you, the denigration of stress in my life is more symbolic than real, and I could use some stress reduction in real time. It doesn’t take too much self-reflection to realize the source of stress in my life: I want to lead a life that is both balanced (personal, family, community, Church, and professional obligations) and accomplished. One of the ideals that was drilled into me at BYU — through many talks by very accomplished Church leaders — is the need to pursue excellence in all aspects of my life, including my profession. A version of this idea even appears in my patriarchal blessing!
In my experience, Mormons know stress. We are culturally programed to be high achievers. Nevertheless, it would be nice if we could hold the applause. I would like to take a nap.