If I could freeze time, slice a moment out of my day, and take stock of the objects around me, I’d find that most everything has not escaped the touch of an engineer.
Freeze 11:22 AM. Docking station, monitor stand, phone, magnetic clips, headphone, 2 desks, filing cabinet, the wall, the floor, a pen. Freeze 7:49 PM. Curtains, dish soap, stove, Tupperware, plates. The electronics are obviously complex, but even the pens –the manufacturing of pens—were also engineered. The physics and geometry of a table may be straightforward, but what about its mass production, packaging, and distribution?
What fascinates me about the pervasiveness of engineering work is that it often is invisible. Most of the time, we don’t go around thinking about who designed the parking meter, how the city purifies water, or what system puts money to our bank account when we deposit checks using our smartphones? We simply expect that things just work.
Perhaps this is why engineers are not commonly perceived as humanitarian heroes. Except for Engineers Without Borders, few cases exist where engineers are heralded as life-saving champions like the doctors, the soldiers, the missionaries, the lawyers, the pilots, or the teachers. Instead, they’re more like supporting characters in a plot where these other professions act as heroes. Heroes help people, especially in moments of crises. The engineers? They just have to make sure that everything works.
The nature of engineering work, to me at least, is not so much to respond to crises, although this certainly is part of the job. The main role, however, is to make sure the daily operations work well. Engineers may get more spotlight when things fail, with some blame involved perhaps, but they’re not necessarily heroes for the thousand other times when things are actually working.
For a lot of engineers, this suits them just fine. After all, many would rather buckle down and solve problems rather than talking about them. But at the same time, I think engineers could take some credits in this ‘helping people’ business.
I work in the gas and oil refining industry. I’m in the business of making fuels. I don’t rescue or help people–in the humanitarian sense of the word–as a day job, but it sure ‘helps’ when my car moves when I press the pedal. I’m sure glad that putting gasoline means something to the car, and that heroes everywhere have means of transporting themselves to where they need to be. No matter how rough a day is, when I get into my car to drive home and see all the other cars on the road, I feel affirmed that my work contributes something, though small, to society.
To me, engineering is an enabler; it enables everyone to do their work, to live, and function efficiently every day, every moment. Our toilets work, our bridges stand, our buildings sound. Somebody thought these through. Engineers are in the business of mundane, everyday things that many take for granted (even flying planes are taken for granted). And I actually love this about my profession.
I get a kick out of working on something that people don’t realize may help them. I get a certain satisfaction from working behind the curtain, designing a system that works so well and intuitive no one thinks twice about how it works.
Being an engineer makes me appreciate things that simply work, because I know it’s not simple to make something work. Designers have to think about the thousand ways it could fail and build measures to avoid them.
Being an engineer makes me appreciate how things came to be. Everything that was made went through a process, and someone thought through that process.
Being an engineer teaches me that I’m part of a system, and that my work can impact everything and everyone down the line. It makes me want to work safely and with integrity, because mistakes can cost someone’s life.
Being an engineer gives me the joy of celebrating success as a team, since no single hero can emerge without a team.
So, to all the engineers out there, I appreciate you. Keep up the good work!
Photo credits: Johnny Loi Photography
The recent happenings and discussions surrounding race relations in America have prompted me to return to an old blog post from 3 years ago, If I Lived Then. It was penned after digesting a series of historical books, on World War II, on the British abolitionist William Wilberforce, on the Bosnian War. I asked myself the question, If I lived then, would I be on the right side of history?
It is easy to be distant and judgmental of the great evil recorded in historical books: “I cannot believe how evil these people are.” But what guarantees us that we would not act the same way given the same situation, living in the same cage of manufactured hatred by the prevailing powers? I’d like to think that I would stand for the tortured if I lived during Nazi Germany. I’d like to think I’d champion Wilberforce’s cause to abolish slave trade in Britain if I lived in the early 1800s. But what guarantees that I would indeed be such a person given the social pressure of the time?
If I don’t have human compassion right now, there is no guarantee that I wouldn’t be part of humanity’s evil in any part of history. What I can do right now, as a 21st century global citizen, is to abolish any notion that “I am better than you” due to socio-economic status, race, education, or any social strata we have manufactured for ourselves. I need to cultivate that human compassion by seeing each person with respect and dignity. Then maybe, if I was thrown into complicated situations, I would actually have the moral backbone to stand for fellow mankind, no matter what race, religion, level of education, social status, or any group they belong to.
It has been made abundantly clear that the nature of humanity’s evil then is still the nature of humanity’s evil now. By this I mean the condition of the soul that produces the evil deeds. The attitude that undermines another human being or another group is ever present and has the potential to manifest itself in various, horrendous ways.
Racism is something each person must fight against first internally, then also outwardly. The claim of immunity, I am convinced, is of utmost danger. We all carry baggage from the past, from our upbringing, from the society we are apart of. It would do us good to examine our internal thoughts and feelings towards ‘other people’, whoever that ‘other’ may be.
The antidote of many great wars and conflicts lies in the simple, but profound, powerful statement, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” because my neighbor and me are equal. The phrase is said often, perhaps too lightly. But it carries with it such power that can counter and prevent much evil.
What a powerful display of love it was when the families of the victims in South Carolina forgave their enemy. What strength of character. This was worth pausing and thinking about.
Today, June 2015, we are faced with tests of character similar to many in history. If I lived then is no longer hypothetical, because the same question applies to now. I live now. What will I do now?
There is something to be said about asking. When we ask for something, we put ourselves in a vulnerable place, because the answer to the request may be a “No.” The aftermath of that answer may send us to a whirlwind of disappointment and hurt, and at the next occasion, we may ask a little more timidly or refrain from it altogether.
It is a fearful thing to ask. But asking is also the key that unlocks an entirely exciting reality that we may never experience otherwise.
The cool thing about asking is that we may actually get what we ask for.
To the Christian, the fear of asking presents a big problem in the spiritual journey. God tells His followers to ask Him for things. “Ask, and you will receive,” He said. But the simplicity of that statement is problematic to the modern, skeptical, and cynical person. Is He really going to give me what I ask for? Even after we fulfill the “requirements” of answered prayers, like being aligned with God’s specific promise, having a pure motive, being thankful, asking for a good thing, etc., we still doubt if perhaps, maybe, possibly God is too busy for our tiny little requests (humility? Or distrust?). If we ask too much, it will be impossible for God to answer it.
Well, the fear of asking will get in the way of intimacy. How can we be close to anyone if we doubt whether he/she wants the best for us?
I believe there is a way to overcome this fear of asking, and it is this: God has done the most impossible thing. For you. For me.
Think of the most unlikely thing, the most miraculous happening that you want to happen. God has already exceeded that.
The most impossible thing that God has done is to forgive our sins, to save a sinner from death to eternal life. Everything else pales in comparison to that. How can we grasp the impossibility of someone who sins and is condemned to death, but doesn’t have to die? Instead, he can still have eternal life as if he never sinned.
Think of the most outrageous request that you have timidly requested to God. What is that request compared to salvation? All of our outrageous requests combined cannot compare to salvation.
When Jacob returned to Canaan and was at the brink of reuniting with his twin brother, Esau, he was trembling with fear. Last time Jacob saw Esau, Esau wanted to kill him because he had stolen something precious. The weight of that sin was heavy on Jacob. But after a night of wrestling with God and after being assured of forgiveness from God, “Jacob no longer feared to meet his brother. God, who had forgiven his sin, could move the heart of Esau also to accept his humiliation and repentance.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 198.
Ever asked for God to change someone’s heart? Sounds pretty impossible, doesn’t it? Yet it is less impossible than the forgiveness of sin.
So, never ask for ‘impossible’ things, because it is easy for God to fulfill it. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32
Ask. Boldly, courageously, obnoxiously. Like a (trusting) spoiled brat to a doting father. Show Him that you actually trust Him.