Returning to College

A new year, a new semester, some new resolutions. The idea is that I must somehow preserve what’s left of my sanity, so these are just safety measures.

1: I will be studious and finish all my homework on time. I will finish my reading at least one day before class, and absolutely not ten minutes before class.
2: I will practice the requisite amount of time and actually be prepared for my lessons every week. Just because I can fake, doesn’t mean I should
3: I will not leave papers until the last minute. Writing said papers at 3am the night before they’re due is o-u-t.
4: I will not overload my schedule. I will allot the proper amount of time for study.
5: I will get more sleep…

…oh, who am I kidding?

What is sanity anyway? And why is it so important? And why do I suppose I can actually maintain any one of these resolutions for even one day? What an idiot.

Although I must say, writing a paper at 3am the night before the due date is one experience I do not care to repeat, so I probably will take special measures to prevent that from ever happening again.

Other than that, I can guarantee that one or all of these resolutions will be broken in my first week back.

And oh-so-patronizingly, you are thinking: “Well of course you’re going to break your resolutions with that bad attitude. You’re setting yourself up for failure! Such pessimism I never saw in all my days!”  ‘Cause I know that’s exactly what you’re thinking…

To which I reply, “Pshaw. A pessimist is never disappointed, at least, not as far as my study resolutions go…”

Thus, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I marginally succeed at keeping any of my resolutions for more than ten minutes. Of course, I’ll give it a good try so that I can’t say I’m not trying. But trying and expecting are two different things entirely. I’ll take the trying, without the expectation.

So, now you might be asking, “What’s the point of this post? Who cares?”

Fine. Shame on me for cluttering cyberspace with my pessimistic paradoxes, but I suppose this is all to illustrate a point for the umpteenth time: the pointlessness of resolutions. Just like you (silly fool) wasting five minutes of your life by reading this post, so we all waste our time making resolutions.

The Importance of Cultural Awareness

During office hours, one of my professors told me something that struck me which I have been pondering ever since. To paraphrase, the statement was something like this: it is important to be intimately aware of popular culture; by being aware of how culture moves one can make the greatest changes. Her main point was that popular culture can be a vehicle for the promotion of higher causes, but only through understanding how it works, and knowing the “lingo” and the tropes.

It seemed a little odd to hear this from a professor when I’d encountered the opposite attitude so often (though mainly from friends and family members): the attitude that says basically “modern popular culture is stupid, so I’m not going to bother with it.” Of course, most of us will readily admit to the manifest silliness of modern pop culture, but that doesn’t mean it is completely worthless or ought to be ignored. Yes, there many things about it that are simply not edifying, but whether or not something is edifying should not necessarily dictate our attitude towards it.

This statement from my professor certainly challenged my own view of the topic. I had been leaning more towards the attitude of wanting to be “above” culture. In a conceited way, I thought it was possible to live in the middle of my own culture and somehow not be a part of it. After examining this idea more closely, I concluded that “not being a part of it” seems to be defined as simply ignoring it, which isn’t necessarily correct. It is possible to “not be a part” of something and still not be totally ignorant of it. That was my first mistake, and still only part of the issue.

My view on this was further changed when I considered the teaching style of my two favorite and most effective professors, whose methods include modern cultural references, especially in making analogies. I noticed that these professors are highly skilled in their fields, yet took the time to become conversant with some of the “trivialities” of popular culture; and despite my own bad attitude towards culture, it still made these professor more relatable. They understand that no matter what age, and no matter how disconnected we may try to be, culture is still the uniting factor of our lives.

Further along in my consideration of the subject, I eventually realized that what I was trying to do (and what some of my friends and even family members are trying to do) is disconnect myself from my fellow man while still believing that I was going to accomplish something good for my fellow man. It is completely paradoxical. How can I benefit modern society if I don’t understand it? Trying to escape the trivial or the disturbing aspects of pop culture is not necessarily going to help me achieve my own goals in life. Only by confronting these things can we begin to make positive changes, even in the tiniest way.

I have causes that I would eventually like to promote because I believe they are worthwhile and beneficial to society. But who’s going to take me seriously if I don’t show that I understand my surroundings and my fellow beings?
So the question is this: can there be benefits in taking the time to understand the culture, trivial (and disturbing) though it may seem? I think the answer is yes.

So there you go; yet another one of my big (and now stupidly obvious) revelations about life.

Marcus Aurelius is the Man

He’s one of history’s “good guys.” By day the emperor of Rome, commander of armies, and conqueror of barbarian nations, by night a Stoic philosopher, at all times a pursuant of virtue. He kept a private journal, which we now know as the “Meditations.” He kept a record of his inmost thoughts, written in Greek during his military campaigns. He is not addressing anyone other than himself, which makes his words seem very intimate and oddly comforting. He is probably one of the friendliest of the ancients that I know.

“Very soon you will be dead; but even yet you are not single-minded, not above disquiet, not yet unapprehensive of harm from without, not yet charitable to all men, not persuaded that to do justly is the only wisdom.” (Book 4, section 37, translation by Maxwell Staniforth).

“Time is a river, the resistless flow of all created things. One thing no sooner comes in sight than it is hurried past and another is borne along, only to be swept away in turn.” (4. 43)

“Be like the headland against which the waves break and break; it stands firm, until presently the watery tumult around it subsides once more to rest…” (4.49)

“Do not be distressed, do not despond or give up in despair, if now and again practice falls short of precept. Return to the attack after each failure, and be thankful if on the whole you can acquit yourself in the majority of cases as a man should…” (5. 9)

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” (8.47)

“O soul of mind, will you never be good and sincere, all one, all open, visible to the beholder, more clearly than even your encompassing body of flesh? Will you never taste the sweetness of a loving and affectionate heart? Will you never be filled full and unwanting, craving nothing, yearning for no creature or thing to minister to your pleasures, no prolongation of days to enjoy them, no place or country or pleasant clime or sweet human company? When will you be content with your present state, happy in all about you, persuaded that all is and shall be well with you, so long as it is their fare of that perfect living Whole – so good, so just, so beautiful – which gives life to all things…?” (10.1)

He wrote these words nearly two thousand years ago, but they have the familiar sound of the discordant song of human existence, the “still, sad music of humanity.” He struggles with the same ills we do, and seeks the consolation of philosophy. It’s somehow comforting to know that even someone as distant and imperious as Marcus Aurelius had a humble view of himself, and spoke similar words to himself as we do today. He was a human being, it shouldn’t surprise us, but for some reason it does. Take comfort in the internal struggle: Marcus Aurelius struggled too.