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A qualitative analysis of life

By T.J. Ray

Long ago when I was in school, when a blackberry was just a goodie Grandma put in cobblers, teachers sometimes spoke of quantitative versus qualitative analysis.

Now I know that blackberries are primarily annoying gadgets that divert people from the world around them at the moment. And the difference between the two kinds of analysis is quite clear.

Not long ago at a public meeting, a very well-dressed gentleman held forth on the superior quality of life in our community, offering outstanding medical facilities, the local university and the atmosphere of the place as proofs. A story in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger quoted a prominent citizen of Oxford as saying that salaries will doubtless catch up with the skyrocketing cost of living in the community. He, too, spoke of our quality of life. A recent Oxford EAGLE had an editorial by a prominent local leader in education, offering the observation that the full funding of the education program in the state will enhance our quality of life.

Bombarded with so many folks slinging the phrase “quality of life” around, I set out to examine it. Lo and behold, no one at Walmart knew which department it was in.

So I went to the library, but none of the librarians could help me find it in their collection of knowledge. As a final attempt at discovery, I did an Internet search, which resulted in hundreds of responses, most of which had the flavor of the three people mentioned above. That vacuum of insight as to what quality of life is left me with only one thing to do: figure it out myself.

Our community has grown in many ways in the three decades I’ve lived here. No longer is it impossible to find a store open on Sunday. One doesn’t have to worry any longer about running into folks you want to avoid in the grocery store. And those unsightly empty spaces around town just wasting away under trees and grass are mostly gone. Kids don’t have to play stick ball or play with dolls or make model airplanes because there is a club for them, an expensive skate park, a new athletic complex in the works, arcade games, etc., etc., etc.

Thanks to aggressive marketing, the neighborhood has changed. Upscale neighborhoods blossom at every turn, often resulting in the decimation of that lovely shade that once graced our streets. Eateries spring up almost weekly. Traffic roundabouts are invented to help with the rush hour glut of vehicles. The population grows, the number of industries grows, the need for more schools grows, property costs grow, insurance rates grow, all of which results in even more aggressive marketing. It’s almost as if misery wants more misery.

Yes, I know I have rambled on about Oxford history so let me get to my point, which is that I now understand quantitative versus qualitative analysis. And quality of life. Those with enough quantity talk about the quality of life. Those who don’t have to live in another county in order to live on what they make in our happy Utopia tout, laud, boast about our quality of life. They don’t have to make the drive to a modest job every morning. They can see the fiduciary gain from inviting more wealthy retirees to buy condos in town or luring more industries to the county.

The current story about the governor of Oregon trying to buy groceries for a week on the dollars from a welfare check caught my eye. I at once was curious about the quality of life of those who have $21 (the amount the Oregon governor has to spend) per week for food for a family. Wouldn’t it be great if nobody in our neighborhood had to do that? But — a big, painful but — I suspect there are many who must live in such a pinching quality of life.

Of late there is much hoopla about affordable housing. With visions of 2037 dancing in their minds, some people are sure such living space is on the horizon. I’d bet that the drivers in cars in those looooong lines coming into town each morning and leaving in the afternoon would appreciate such housing. The brutal truth is that it may be a wonderful hope, while in reality it is a gossamer. The sheer cost of land and the financing of building affordable homes precludes that happening.

Those others, the ones who may hold down two jobs, most likely in situations where husband and wife must work to make a living, don’t talk about quality of life. They’d probably have as much difficulty defining it as I’ve had. Life is life. They just live it. And they’ll live it till they die working at living. Nice retirement is not likely in their future.

So, you see, if you have the quantity, you can talk about the quality of life. And of course it helps to ignore those whose quality is far from being benign.

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at tjmaryjo@bellsouth.net.