GUEST COMMENTARY: Consider the numbers behind the numbers

2013-09-22T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Consider the numbers behind the numbersBy Dan Lowery
September 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Over the last year, the presidents and chancellors associated with the region's institutions of higher learning have published commentaries on the 10 chapters of One Region's 2012 Profile of Northwest Indiana Report.

Times readers have thus benefited – we hope – from insights shared by Chancellors Tom Coley, Jim Dworkin, Thomas Keon, William Lowe and J. Guadalupe Valtierra, and from President Mark Heckler and me as well.

The topics addressed include diversity, employment, economic development, environment, housing, public transportation, education, health care, public safety, the arts, tax policy and citizenship.

We're convinced a community cannot improve unless it begins with an honest assessment of itself and then engages in a broad conversation about its alternative futures. The more than 100 indicators included in the One Region report serve these purposes well.

We would do well, however, to consider the larger purpose they serve. It is important not to think of the report's indicators as ends in and of themselves.

Economic development is desirable, but few would argue wealth should serve as the measure of all things. Similarly, we could enhance the environment by curtailing all economic activity along the lakefront, but few believe this would be desirable.

Similarly, we know how to reduce crime. All we would have to do is consent to a bit less freedom. And, yes, higher taxes would probably solve some problems. Dramatically higher taxes, however, would not be sustainable over time.

In part, this is why the indicators included in the One Region Report focus on so many different topics. Their breadth tends to curb one-sided or extreme visions of the future.

More importantly, any particular indicator should be considered useful only to the extent that it sheds light on human flourishing. Jobs enable mothers and fathers to provide opportunities for their children. Public transportation makes full participation in the life of the community possible. A college degree opens vistas unimagined by those who have been deprived of an education. And the opportunity to vote confirms the equal standing before the law we all profess as sacred.

We would do well to think about the most important indicators of human happiness, the kind of metrics not included, but underwritten nonetheless by the One Region report.

It would be good to know, for instance, if more of the region's children are now going to bed each night confident that they are loved. Imagine a graph showing how many workers are now sleeping more soundly because they derive such great satisfaction from their jobs and feel secure about their prospects for continued employment. How about a chart showing how many of us experience true meaning in our lives?

And wouldn't it be great to know how many of us had our breath taken away this year by an unexpected moment of appreciation for God's handiwork as revealed in the beauty of nature?

We don't track these kinds of numbers, but they give meaning to the numbers we do track.

Dan Lowery is president of Calumet College of St. Joseph. The opinions are the writer's.

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