This article is part of our series of alumni articles in which we invite BIC alumni to contribute articles connecting their own work, education, experiences, or interests to their BIC education. Today’s contribution is from Trevor Cichowski (’04), an F-16 instructor pilot with the US Air Force. We hope you enjoy, and if you are interested in contributing an article, email us at BIC@baylor.edu.
“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
― Robert M. Pirsig
I hope I’m not alone when I reminisce about reading Robert Pirsig’s classic novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Maybe it was the enriching sense of being able to read philosophy and finally, FINALLY being able to comprehend some (but certainly not all!) of the concepts. Or perhaps it was the mere fact that I had time to read for pleasure, something which remains fleetingly elusive these days in “the real world.” Or maybe it was the way Pirsig’s ideas dovetailed right into Dr. David Corey’s political philosophy syllabus, and echoed the concepts first brought into my lexicon during Social World sessions with Professor Henry Wright, and World Cultures lectures with the incomparable Dr. Tom Hanks. Regardless of what memories this passage inevitably invokes, the two key concepts Pirsig is attempting to portray with this metaphor are simple. First, life is full of “frames” through which we view the world, and I hardly think I need to bore a BIC audience with a recitation of the various “frames” which can color our personal world views. The second concept is that passivity can inevitably lead to stagnation, and a solidification of a view which hinders your ability to experience the world to its fullest.
“Of course!” you’re probably saying. “BIC is the motorcycle in this metaphor! I’m being an active participant and stepping outside of my normal ‘frame’!” you’re probably thinking. “I’ve read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in Social World!” you’re probably telling yourself. Regrettably, I would temper this enthusiasm with a more realistic assessment – while BIC is an amazing program, and will forever color the way in which I see the world, BIC is NOT the “motorcycle” in this analogy. Instead, BIC is an opportunity to actively increase the “frame” through which you’re seeing the world, because regardless of how many temple visits you take, or how many times you re-read Augustine’s The City of God (lots of times, if you’re like me and didn’t understand it the first time), you will never be without your own personal “frame” through which you view the world. Additionally, as a military officer, I’ve found that beyond your own personal “frame,” you’re often burdened with other “frames” that sometimes overlap into a distorted Venn diagram of sometimes complementing, and sometimes opposing viewpoints. My personal views that I held when I graduated from Baylor were far more idealistic and energetic than the views that I hold now, although my views now are tempered by pragmatism, and the experience of 14 years of military service. Likewise, I must simultaneously view the world through the Department of Defense’s professional lexicon on many issues, regardless of how I may agree or disagree with those views personally. This disconnect between my professional views and personal views has been an interesting conundrum to say the least.
For example – the first time I looked down on the Iraqi countryside, and watched the devout going to pray at the Umm al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad, I was filled with competing emotions. From a personal perspective, I was awed by both the sheer numbers of believers flowing into the mosque, and also by the devotion that these Sunni Muslims had in their faith, despite living in – what we might consider- fairly dire straits following the coalition military campaign 2007-2009. Professionally, I was filled with a mixture of both anxiety and boredom. Anxiety because a large gathering of civilians is a perfect target for potential counter-insurgent attacks, but boredom because repetitively performing armed over-watch of Iraqi civilians from a height of 18,000 feet, day after day, quickly becomes tedious. In fact, a large portion of my career can be summed up by the old military adage “hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” These same competing views have held steadfastly regardless of where my military service has taken me – over the DMZ in South Korea, over the deserts of Iraq, even over the training airspace in the Sea of Japan. I am constantly reconciling my personal sense of amazement with my more temperate professional “frame” of reference.
So why do I still reflect on my BIC education then, even after 14 years of leaving Waco and the “bubble” behind? Simply put, BIC enabled me to recognize that I had a very narrow “frame” through which I viewed the world. And while BIC certainly helped me expand my “frame” of reference, the more important lesson I’ve carried with me is the recognition that I will always have a “frame” which shapes how I view the world. It would be naïve to think that I can view the world from a “frameless” perspective like Pirsig’s motorcycle rider. However, I don’t believe that it’s naïve to hope that future BIC graduates use their unique educational experience to recognize the makeup of their own “frame” and continually seek to expand its boundaries. Don’t allow yourself to remain a “passive observer” of the world!
Trevor Cichowski (’04) hails from Wichita Falls, and is an F-16 instructor pilot with the US Air Force.