Monday, January 16, 2012

Wait, I Just Got Here!

I've already completed my first year at Shimer College. Can you believe it? Neither can I. Seems like just the other day I was frantically making phone calls to to then-Dean David Shiner while simultaneously e-mailing the registrar (some guy named Jim, anybody know him?) The truth of the matter is that while the past year of college has gone by quickly, that's not to say that it was all cake-walks and sidewalk chalk. I've made quite a few mistakes and learned a few useful lessons from the experience.

1. Don't sign up to be a part of everything, no matter how awesome it sounds or how cute the person at the table is

I can't stress this one enough. My first semester I signed up for just about anything that came my way. I wanted to do it all: GLAM (Gays, Lesbians, Allies, and More), 33rd Street Productions (Theatre), Feminists United, and many more. I had a crapton of e-mails coming from each of these organizations and no time to commit to any of them. It wasn't until last semester that I realized what I could realistically handle. I am now an employee for the Illinois Institute of Technology Residence and Greek Life department, as well as a tech assistant at Shimer, I'm a volunteer small group leader of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and I'm a full-time student. The beautiful thing about it is that I am able to easily manage my work, my one student organization, and my class obligations; leaving my second job at Shimer as a bonus activity. I work as a tech assistant which has probably the most flexible hours. I get an e-mail from my boss saying what kind of project they need doing and I say whether or not I can make it. There's no pressure for me and it really helps them out when I am available. Speaking of time management...

2. Keep an accurate calendar of things you need to do each day

This took me my entire first year of missing appointments, forgetting to do assignments, and never taking up opportunities available to me because I was to afraid to commit the time in case it conflicted with something else. This semester I keep track of my daily things such as class, work, and social engagements; I track my entire week's worth of homework in order of day it is due, and I have alarms programmed into my phone to warn me in advance of a regularly scheduled appointment such as work. So far, this has really helped me keep on track of things. I've found that I have twice as much free time now that I keep track of my daily appointments and have more time for the best recreational activity ever (codeword: sleep).

3. A Reading Is A Reading Unless It's A Shimer Reading

So you waited until the last minute to do that Aristotle reading, huh? No problem, you've got 45 minutes to cram that Posterior Analytics into your brain and hope you'll be able to pull something out of your own Posterior in class discussion, right? Right... It's unrealistic to do every reading twice, but I can say that some of our authors are not big on clarity (or your name is Joe Sachs and you should quit translating) and with this lack of clarity comes the necessity to mull it over a few times. Sure, when you're a first year student, you may be able to get away with it most of the time because you're readings aren't terribly difficult; but those of you who were/are daring enough to take an elective might have gotten a feel for what the upper class students are taking. The longer you stay at Shimer, the less you will be able to cram in the last minute (or not do at all) and still get away with. This came to my attention as I was reading The Teacher, a dialogue by Augustine. It took me twice as long because Augustine has so many layers, he's like an onion wrapped in an orange peel.

4. Forget your significant other back home

I would ask why you even needed a romantic interest in high school, but who am I to judge? I had several and besides, it seems like at least half of incoming Shimer students aren't coming straight out of high school anyway. This is not a rock-steady rule, but I really would advise against trying to maintain a relationship you started back home. I've seen it work in only a few instances where the couples were exceptionally mature about their commitments to each other. For everyone else, give yourself some room to breathe. Give yourself time to discover who you are when you're not living under Mommy and/or Daddy's roof anymore. Give yourself time to examine the things you've always held true and decide for yourself whether you believe them to still be true. Once you've done these things, or at least made some progress in doing so, you might want to consider trying the dating thing again if that's what you feel like doing.

5. Don't kill your roommate

Every dorm-dwelling Shimerian who lives in the same building and floor as I do knows that I don't always get along with my roommate. We're pretty much four years apart and that has made things all the more interesting. People might call me crazy for this, but I really wanted all the problems that have happened between my roommate and I. I could have afforded to have a room all to myself, or I could have lived with an IIT student elsewhere on campus, but I chose to face whatever problems would arise by living on the Shimer dorm floor. I wanted to challenge myself to grow in my social development. Sharing living space is one thing when you have your own bedroom to retreat to, but what do you do in a studio apartment? You can't hide in the bathroom forever. I'll tell you what you don't do, you don't kill each other. You work things out, bring someone else in on the problem if that fails, and if all else fails- request a new roommate. I sincerely believe that both my roommate and me will be better people for our experience even if it takes us ten years to actualize the lessons learned.

6. Your bed is sacred

I know it may seem comfortable to do your homework, read a book, or waste time on the Internet while snuggled in bed; don't do it. Turns out that our brains are more associative than we'd like them to be. When you study, read, or browse the web while sitting/lying in bed then what you're doing is programming your brain to think of those activities whenever you climb into bed. This is really bad when those rare times when you hop into bed because you actually want to sleep, your brain will think it's time to browse the web or read a book. I'm guilty of doing this from time to time since I have Netflix and Facebook on my phone.

7. You do not deserve a social life when you pay $25,000+/year to study

It amazes me how many fellow students I hear whine and complain about how little time they have to socialize and "have a life". In case it wasn't clear when you stepped foot on the campus, where every step you take represents about $20 you dropped into the school's bank account, you are paying too much to lose focus on your academics. Yes, it sucks that you have to work so much of the time and there are so many fun activities going on around campus. Seriously though, if not for the fact that you will learn nothing by over-emphasizing your social life, you'll be wasting thousands of dollars to do what you had all of high school to do. If you didn't take advantage of the light loads you had in high school (even my college prep with classical education was light in comparison to college) then you missed out on your opportunity to have a social life. Sorry, but college is too expensive and your future too dependent on your success for you to gripe and moan about the lack of social life. And before I get too much more into this...

8. Manage your time wisely... Which means paying close attention to steps 1-7...

Folks, it boils down to time management. I do not mean to say that I'm the master guru of time management, but I am improving considerably since my time in high school or even my first year in college. I've narrowed down the list of commitments I have to three main objectives which I will prioritize for you now in order of which gets the highest priority: class (plus the homework), work, and IVCF. In between those three I have found time to sleep, Skype video chat with my sister in Florida, call my mom, write blogs, keep a personal journal, rock out to my cooking playlist while concocting something tasty in the kitchen, spend quality time with friends on a semi-regular basis, go to church, and build Lego sets. I'm not saying you'll be able to do all these things and more the minute you attempt time management. It's a skill and like many other things it has to be developed before you can acheive what you want with it 90% of the time.

There you have, people. All these lessons I have learned the hard way in one form or another. I don't mention them to put you down if you are a person does any or all of these things, but I am hoping you'll consider what I say. If you're a Shimerian reading this, know that the facilitators are a great source of knowledge and much of what I learned about fixing my time management issues was through conversations with my facilitators plus a healthy dose of long-forgotten common sense.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thoughts on Violence Pt. 2: The Cycle of Violence

It somewhat surprises me how few people have asked me why I chose to commit to non-violent activism. Part of the problem could be tied to my misuse of the word pacifism to describe what I am. It's my experience that there are so many preconceived notions about pacifism that many people don't feel any explanation is necessary. During the first semester when I told people I was a pacifist, they'd usually respond in good humor, "I'm sorry". I have found that the other common response is to say, "Wait, so you mean to tell me that if... [hypothetical dire situation]... You would not... [hypothetical violent response]" This latter response is frustrating for two reasons; either the hypothetical response provided was not truly violent or it would fit the description of a strawman's argument. In fact, I think the only person who actually asked me what my reasoning for choosing non-violence is my roommate and it only came out because pacifism was already the topic of conversation.

It should be no surprise to anyone by now when I say that I used to be an ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christian. I used to think everything was so black and white, cut and dry, and as clear as day was separated from night. At that time, I was a situationalist, which is really just a big word for the belief that the measure of action required is based on the situation at hand. You can read more about situational ethics here. Basically, it states that the ends justify the means. It sounds harsh when I put it that way, but understand that for someone who embraces situational ethics the desired end should always be love according to Fletcher's original theory. There are some pretty convincing scenarios provided in the link if you're having trouble conceptualizing how anyone could find this mentality at all practical. It was all so conveniently obvious to me. I'll never forget one day in fifth grade that my teacher asked us to consider the ethical dilemma of illegal immigrants crossing over the southern border to the US. After half-listening, half-mocking the answers of my classmates, I raised my hand and suggested, "Why don't we just put a wall along the border with a machine gun nest or a sniper to stop anyone who tries to cross over?"

To me, the illegal immigrants were not people, they were an obstacle preventing the desired end for me. As I saw it, they were a disruption to the harmonious society America was. They took up space, resources, and circumvented the immigration system while begging for citizenship and all the rights granted with it. I was dumbfounded when my classmates responded with shock and horror at my suggestion. It took a few moments for my teacher to settle the class down, but then he called upon someone to explain why my solution was not a good one. Keep in mind that my classmates and I were ten or eleven at the time, my classmate said, "They're just trying to have a better life here." They're just trying to have a better life here. Better than what? Don't all people in every country live as we do? You'd think that such a mind-blowing experience like that would have taught me a thing or two about global awareness, but somehow I managed to chalk the experience up to a bunch of children without the moral resolve to do what was necessary to protect God's great nation.

Are you getting a sense of how perversely intertwined my politically misguided views and my religious teaching had been? It's like Manifest Destiny was threatening to have a revival right there starting with me. By high school I was a real confused mess. I was a staunch pro-lifer, gay-hating, war celebrating, budding intellectual. I couldn't see all the inconsistencies, how the tapestry of my ideas was coming apart at every seam. I wanted to save every last unborn child while mercilessly slaughtering every Iraqi and Afghan until there were none to fire back at us. To me, the abortion issue was easily dismissed as the woman being too lazy to deal with the consequences of her actions whereas the death of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans posed no moral problem for me because it would save American lives. Add to that the narrative that Former-President Bush gave the people about God telling him to go to war, it seems to me like the war in the Middle East became the crusades all over again. I feel physically ill just thinking about all this.

Folks, that's just the intellectual and philosophical fallacies I have since come to realize about violence I used to support. The religious and political were so carefully tied together in a web of fail-safe lies: if one of the political lies failed to satisfy a question, fall back to religious lie. There's a lot more anecdotal things I could add about my personal life and how I was bullied and thus became a bully of sorts. I wanted to show, on an intellectual level, the epitome of what was wrong with all this.

Violence is a vicious cycle that does not stop until someone stops responding with violence, but even then the consequences of violence can be so far reaching that one can stop but it will be too late. Just because it may be too late to stop the repercussions of previous violent actions does not negate the necessity to stop the violence.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,