POTD: People Are People

People Are People Bozeman, Montana 2010

People are a puzzle alright, but “people are people” is one of those phrases that seems to say either a lot or nothing at all. In this case I’m leaning toward the later, perhaps because of the thoughtless use of a similar phrase I was guilty of back in another life. I was a graduate student in sociology at the University of Arizona at the time (the mid-70s) and taking an advanced research class from Dudley Duncan, one of the most influential sociologists in history. During one class session Dudley asked us to speculate as to the cause of some particular type of human behavior he had been discussing. After a long silence with no response from anyone else, I thoughtlessly piped up with the reply “human nature.” Now Dudley Duncan was usually a very serious and formal person both in and out of the classroom, but on hearing that reply he burst into the loudest guffaw I ever heard from him. “THAT’S what we’ve been paying you to go to school for? THAT’s what the sum total of your learning here has brought you to?” (or something along those lines) was his response once he stopped laughing. I don’t know if I’ve retained anything else from what I learned in that class but I did learn to be hyper-aware of seemingly profound statements that don’t have a lot of explanatory meat to them. (That awareness is driving me crazy during this election season, but that’s a different rant.) And Dudley? That statement did not seem to change his view of me too much. He eventually asked me to be one of his research assistants but I turned him down because I decided to leave the university for other adventures after getting my master’s degree. We stayed in touch though and he visited us occasionally until his death in 2004. That whole time he remained to me an inspiration, mentor, and a prime example of a intellectual life well led. But even towards the end I was always nervous around him, afraid of eliciting another rare guffaw.  ]]>