Understanding Via Ambiguity

“What is the meaning of life?” is obviously the most cliché philosophical question you could ask.

To rehash for the umpteenth time what the existentialists said, life has no meaning if you aren’t religious. A lot of people turn to religion in order to imbue meaning into life as part of some bigger plan by God, which Sartre scorned as defeatist.

The next biggest cliché is that if life has no meaning, you have to create your own meaning. Sartre called this l’engagement. Camus took it a step further and suggested that the best sort of engagement is one that derives meaning from creating meaning for others. In other words, being a humanist as a hobby.

The logic seems sound enough, if not a little cruel. The purpose of life is to self-impose a purpose of helping others create a purpose out of something meaningless. It’s kind of a vicious cycle.

Yet perhaps the existentialists and the religious alike were both wrong. Maybe it’s not a dualistic “to be or not to be” type of question. There is and never will be an answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” The only answer with which we can content ourselves is that we do not know.

We have to be okay with unanswered questions. Even Hamlet’s question was answered with “the rest is silence.” Life is not a math problem or essay graded by your professor. Ambiguity is uncomfortable, but once we realize that there is no definitive answer, maybe we really can choose the response we want.

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How To Actually Have A Better Year: On Toxic Relationships

One thing I’ve seen people advocate this past month is dropping toxic friendships from your life. I agree, but I also think that removing bad doesn’t necessarily guarantee the addition of good. Instead of simply ridding ourselves of what hurts us, we need to also become the kind of person worth keeping. We need to set the example of what is good.

Security, reciprocal emotional responsibility, and clear communication are qualities we often take for-granted. But people worth keeping exhibit these, and more.

We all basically understand that toxic people leave you emotionally drained, devalued, and/or feeling stifled in your attempts at communication. We shouldn’t dehumanize or vilify them, though – they are insecure people who deserve compassion. But they lack responsibility of both their own emotions and those of others. They may believe that admitting their own shortcomings, fears – thereby being vulnerable – is a weakness. Or they may source their own value in others’ esteem and project.

In contrast, people worth keeping are those with whom you can have conversations about everything from the weather to your wildest dreams. They know that everyone has faults – themselves and you – but know that everyone is trying their best. They know that everyone has just as many if not more strengths. When something goes wrong, they let you know while still taking account of the fact that every story has two sides. When something goes right, they tell you, encouraging you, building you up.

To simplify, in a harmonious relationship, communication is earnest and reciprocal, ambitions and vulnerabilities are validated, and both individuals are responsible.

Getting rid of toxicity won’t guarantee that the rest of our relationships will be fulfilling. We all want people who build us up, make us excited to reach for our goals, and make us feel safe. But to find these kinds of relationships, we need to be those kinds of people too. In 2019, we need to all become people who communicate respectfully with others, are strong enough to be vulnerable, and responsible enough to nurture truly positive relationships.

The Imperativeness of Being Earnest

To be honest, honesty is overrated. Earnestness, on the other hand, is extremely undervalued.

Who hasn’t before heard (if not said) the passive-aggressive preface, “Just being honest?” Firstly, honesty is not an excuse to be an asshole. Honesty should only be used where an outsider perspective that conflicts with another’s interpretation of events is constructive, whether that be to truly help someone for their own benefit or to defend yourself if your rights are violated.

Secondly, honesty is an abstract notion. Honesty, according to Merriam Webster, is “adherence to the facts.” But when we preface a subjective statement with “just being honest,” we are not honestly adhering to the correct definition. Who is to say that my interpretation of reality is a fact? The only fact in that statement would be the fact that you think something different.

Finally, people know that being “honest” can often provoke others. They sometimes thus use honesty as a pretext for inaction, likely also blaming the other party for not permitting them to be honest, which brings me to my next point.

We seem to confuse honesty of words with something virtuous. Sticking to the “facts” is impossible. But being sincere is not.

It is an age old adage that “actions speak louder than words.” Honesty is certainly not always the best option, but earnestness usually is. If you truly, honestly care about someone, it isn’t so much the content of your words that will demonstrate it as it is your actions. Listening to people. Reaching out to them. Gestures that show you want to understand and care for them. Is this always completely possible? Of course not. But it is indeed the thought that counts, and more.

What Makes A “Good” Study Abroad Program

For my French study abroad semester, orientation was 2 weeks long and is finally nearing its end. It’s been an exhausting time, though nowhere near as intense as the orientation in Yokoze, Japan for the fall. Comparing the two, as well as my internship program in Mongolia, brings about some interesting reflections about what constitutes a “good” study abroad program. Namely, I feel that integration into the community for students is key to developing a truly fulfilling experience.

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In Response To “Barking Up The Wrong Tree”

Graduation-hat-clipart-graduation-cap-photos-graduation
I’m not saying that it’s entirely wrong but this article seems to be pointing out something that a.) should be obvious and b.) leads to the false conclusion that to be the valedictorian means automatically that you’re a robotic, herd-loving pawn of “the system.” It’s true – valedictorians are not likely to be particularly successful. But that’s true of any individual within a large population. Including you.
The US has something like 25,000 public high schools, and that doesn’t count the private schools. You therefore have something like 25,000 valedictorians. Do you really expect that all 25,000 are going to be the next Gandhi? And given that the majority of humans – valedictorians or not – are very schedule and rule-oriented, do you really take this as surprising? Valedictorian is a title. It doesn’t make the person who received the title any more or less human. Furthermore, this article seems to state that the edgy rebels are the ones who go far. That may be the case sometimes, but it’s not because gamblers have some sort of advantage in terms of their luck. In reality the people who go far do so because of perseverance, not because of a title they did or did not achieve in an early, relatively minor point in their life. There is no real, truly quantifiable indicator of success at this point.
Also, just to refute that BS about standardized tests being a better indicator of IQ:  “How I Learned To Take the SAT Like A Rich Kid”  reveals that many if not most of the highest scorers belong to the upper rungs of society because they can afford extensive test preparation.
I fully admit that following the rules is indeed a major issue – see the book Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz. But contrary to what the article seems to imply, this phenomenon is not limited to valedictorians, nor does it mean the chances of valedictorians changing or impressing the world is especially lower simply because they have obtained such a title. It is, rather, a tragic phenomenon that applies to us all, straight-A student or not: that we, as humans, have a tendency to conform to the rules and do nothing, forsaking our ideals for comfort and never truly making our mark on the world.