Something You Probably Shouldn’t Ask A College Student

Someone recently asked me whether I felt “victorious” in the context of checking up on my progress through grad school. I demurred, but if you think about it, that’s a really relative question.

victory First off, unless you’re talking about college students who just aced really difficult assignments, I don’t think students generally feel “victorious”. (Maybe your experience has been more special than mine.)  I don’t feel victorious, like, ever. I feel loved. I feel safe. I also feel stressed and , scared. The good news is the answer to that question does not determine how things are actually going.

This is firstly because my feelings do not determine reality and reality does not determine my feelings. Sure, there’s a strong correlation there, but it’s one which (I hope) grows weaker by the day. Secondly, we have to draw a distinction about who’s doing the winning here. If I ace an assignment, but don’t feel I’ve done my best, I’ve lost. If I ace an assignment, but have to work myself to exhaustion, both the teacher and I have lost (It’s not supposed to be that hard). If I fail, but I accomplish what God has me here to do, He’s won. If I do my best, learn a lot, and still fail, I’m not sure if I’ve won, I’ve lost, or I can draw a tie. (Also, who do I win against? Myself, the educational system, or a difficult subject?)

You’ve asked the wrong question, probably because you don’t know what you want to know. Even I don’t know whether I feel victorious. If you want to know how I am, ask directly and expect an honest answer. You probably don’t want to ask about my studies unless you want to hear jargon. I’m not going to tell you my grades. I’d rather you told me you were praying for me. I’d rather you told me about a really hard test you once took (and didn’t fail). I’d rather be a person rather than a collection of grades and feelings.

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Awkard Silences and Being Like Jesus

I moved to a new place recently. There is a large amount of economic disparity here, especially along racial lines. There is also widespread atheism. Putting aside all policy arguments, I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do about the problems this city has using a Godly yet uncondemning approach. Jesus is the best example of how to deal with these problems. He hung around with poor and marginalized people, and although he alienated the upper crust of society, most people loved him. My question is…how?

CityI mean, Jesus was perfect. But does that imply sinlessness or complete perfection in all areas? He seems to have known exactly what to say to make people feel loved, even when he didn’t agree with them. Does perfection also mean he never had awkward moments where he didn’t know what to say to homeless people, how to talk to his teachers, or how to solve a math problem? Did he ever not know how or even whether it would be wise to talk to people about God?

On one hand, Jesus was fully human, so he had moments of extreme mental distress, exhaustion, and he had to keep in contact with God by prayer. On the other hand, God seems to have come through an *awful lot* and told him what to say when. Unfortunately, my words never seem to come out right. Perhaps this imperfection itself is not a sin, but a symptom of not spending enough time with God.

On the bright side, whatever it is, it seems to have afflicted a lot of people in the Bible. Elijah hid in a cave because he didn’t want to face Jezebel right after God had sent down fire from heaven to burn up Elijah’s sacrifice. You’d think that would have given him some nerve. Nope. He ran away and hid in a cave even after God sent an angel to feed him en route. It took God passing by the mouth of the cave and talking to Elijah in person to give him his nerve back. Even then, God didn’t yell at him: he sent him reinforcements in the form of Elisha, and allowed him to continue calling down fire from heaven.

God seems to do that a whole lot. The Bible says fear is the opposite of love, and God is love, but most of the important people in the Bible are really fearful. Peter failed walking on water and denied Jesus because he was afraid. God had Aaron speak for Moses because Moses was too scared. After John the Baptist was thrown in prison, he sent people to verify Jesus’ identity even though he had already heard God identify him. Abraham lied about his wife because he was afraid the Pharaoh would kill him. Paul doesn’t seem to have been too fearful as a Christian, but prior to that, he was a legalist, which in my experience is an expression of fear of the consequences of personal insufficiency.

The good news is that this discussion of perfection is arbitrary. Perfection is not gained via legalism by wanting to be perfect. If Elijah’s experience is relevant, the proper approach is to talk to God (sans hiding in caves), find reinforcements, and keep on trying to love people. As Paul said of legalism, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Even if the silences are *really* awkward.

Red Flags in Activism

Grass-roots activism has been a powerful force in American-history. However, there are certain common problems with activists’ arguments, which, if not obliterating that cause’s chance of being taken seriously, prevent *me* from taking them seriously.  Every organization that exhibits one of these warning signs is not necessarily foaming at the mouth, but has blind spots and should be approached with caution.

Darn Commies! (C) Paramount Pictures & Lucasfilm

Darn Commies! (c) Paramount Pictures & Lucasfilm

Persecution Doctrine is the belief that people/the establishment are actively persecuting a cause. But exactly what is persecution? Merriam-Webster defines “persecute” as

1: to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs

2: to constantly annoy or bother (someone)

Often, however, no evidence of constant harassment or unfair treatment is presented. Nor does such evidence prove that either viewpoint is in the right. It only suggests that one side finds debate threatening. However, if said cause wishes to proceed in this vein anyway, I find their arguments more convincing if they document a substantial number of concrete examples of how the organization/specific people have been harassed or focus their argument on things the organization has done, rather than ways it has been disenfranchised.

Squelching Debate. Ironically, the people who complain that their viewpoint has not been given a fair hearing often deny the opposition the same thing. This may take the form of deleting criticizing comments or banning commentators from web-page. Debate suppression may take the form of ad hominem attack, building straw-men, or bulverism. Indeed, if these organizations actually believe that their opponents are “haters” whose viewpoints are dictated by the “establishment” one begins to understand their persecution doctrine. However, the correct viewpoint will not be injured by answering the opposing arguments, and will be more respected for it.

Excessive Adherence to/Refusal to Acknowledge Authorities is another warning sign. One may disagree with the authorities, but to do so, one must present reasons, and one’s own authoritative voices. Or activists may attempt to cover their back by only citing particular authorities without addressing personal experience or opposing arguments (See Squelching Debate). The potential activist should realize who their authorities are, determine whether that authority applies, and present challenges to and alternative viewpoints to their own.

Excessive Attention to Marketing need not signal duplicity, but it has been used to “crowd-out” bad stories. To establish credibility, one might address these bad stories openly, and without generalization. They won’t be as apt to pop up later.

Fear-Mongering is used as a recruiting technique. Unfortunately, these fears often rely on unproven assumptions or there are alternate means of preventing the feared outcome. To make these strategies more effective, one should ensure the feared outcomes are direct consequences of your cause’s failure, rather than one-thing-leads-to-another scenarios.

Refusal to Compromise or Leave Opponents an Honorable Out commonly prevents amicable agreements. For example, after WWI, the French insisted that the Germans shoulder the bulk of the war debt and accept responsibility for the war. Regardless on your opinion of whether the French were justified, the Germans never would have taken such an agreement had they any choice, and Hitler’s rhetoric at the beginning of WWII highlighted showing the world the superiority of the Aryan race. Policy change is essentially a treaty, so I believe in giving your opponent a way to come out of a skirmish with dignity intact. For example, Germany could have given up Alsace-Lorraine in exchange for debt forgiveness or trade agreements or something else, which might have allowed the new German administration (over which France had just become dominant) to remain in office where France could exert its sway.

Partial Falsehoods fall under the umbrella of intellectual dishonesty (unless, of course, there’s no way one could have known the truth). Activism is all about morals. What are yours?

Poor Spelling and Grammar does not imply poor reasoning skill, but look at it this way. If you can’t be bothered to proof-read or hire an editor, than why should I give you money? Quite probably, you don’t have an accountant either. If you don’t care about your cause enough to discuss it in an educated way, than why should I care?

Excessive Anger is both one of the most detrimental and most difficult problems to cope with. If you didn’t believe in this cause, then you wouldn’t be an activist. Yet anger clouds thinking and allows the opposition (if it exists) to write-off your supporters as a bunch of frothing at the mouth idiots. Rather one might formulate with possible retorts and ways to address them in a professional manner.

While these warning signs are present in a number of popular activist causes, I believe that they are the reason a lot of causes haven’t gone further: the organizers refuse to address people who value complete logical arguments or the organizers have not thought about why the opposition might oppose the movement or whether the movement’s goals are even viable.

While I find these characteristics troubling, they do not imply that an activist cause is necessarily wrong. There are some causes I support which display some of these red flags. In addition, there are many opposing outlooks on this issue. In researching some of the rhetoric out there, I stumbled across a post opining that youth activism is actually too “safe”, politically correct, cool-headed, and dependent on authority. While I agree that government-funded activism isn’t a good idea, my gripe with activism is that it is too emotionally driven, and the public makes decisions based on fear, rather than reason, while the activists place the appearance of righteousness over reason.

Social Energy

It’s interesting that I only get the urge to write at midnight, when I have homework, or when I generally don’t have the time to do so. Even so, if I only got the urge to write and followed it half the time I got on the internet to procrastinate, the archives of this blog would be larger, and I would be much better at writing. You see, getting on the internet for long periods when I ought to be going to bed has become a trend, but oddly, it does not relax me in any way, and eats up large portions of the time I reserved for extra sleep by ending my study sessions a few hours early.

I couldn’t figure out why I want to sit at the computer for so long. The hypnotic effect of the blue computer screen light *can’t* be that strong. Then a friend linked to this cartoon on understanding the social life of the introverted.

When I saw this, I gained a sudden understanding of the actions of certain “antisocial” people, and wished I’d seen this years ago. But what really resonated with me was the implication that introverts are responsible for all the new social energy. If this is true, extroverts must sponge off them or survive on some ancient energy source passed down through the ages by socializing extroverts. That *can’t* be accurate. If that were the case, extroverts would be really desperate–and shy extroverts like me would be terminally depressed.

My theory is anyone can make energy–extroverts just happen to be really lazy about it, and would rather sponge off introverts or create new energy by meeting people. I personally create energy by working on an immense number of crafts (a la this summer), praying, and writing. But when I’m drained from studying, the first place I instinctively look for energy is from interaction with other people–on the internet! The only problem with this plan is that everyone else on the internet is *also* looking for validation and attention, and the internet leeches tend to suck more out of me than they put in.

The reason I spend so much time on the internet turned out to be the classical explanation: I’m lazy. However, I’m not lazy for wanting some time off, only for not turning to the right things to get back on my feet. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s knitting that wants doing.

Just Good Enough

Image

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of amazing, challenging things to learn. It’s a little bit intimidating. I don’t feel that I’m learning as much as I ought or being as diligent as I ought. And every time I turn around, I read about a famous person who went to Princeton, or taught here, or dropped out. And I don’t feel like I can measure up. But then I remember it’s not a competition. It’s a collaboration.

There will always be someone smarter than you. This can be depressing, but I look at it another way. There is no smartest person. Unless someone out there has already written my thesis (which might have happened already) each person brings their own unique blend of interests to the game. And each person comes to the game at an entirely different point, meaning that everyone has something different to work with. Even if someone has already written my thesis, and done it better, I can always build on their work and, with the help of their work, learn more about the subject than anyone else has ever known. Being of average intelligence also means that there will always be people with whom I can collaborate so I don’t have to solve all my problems myself.

Besides, I’m not here to be smart. I’m here to bring glory to God. And maybe I can do that by bringing my own perspective to the collaboration I hope to have while I’m here. If I can do that, my work will good enough. Would it sound more impressive if all my work was done Imagesolo? Sure. Will I get further if I talk to people from different backgrounds and expertise? Definitely. You don’t want the success of a “collaboration” riding on your shoulders. Trust me. And if you surround yourself with people who are smarter (even if their smartness makes you feel stupid) you will get actual collaboration.

Just a thought. It’s beautiful here.