Sunday, November 15, 2015

College Protests: Life Is Hard

My second thought.

We tend to pooh-pooh how difficult college life is, because in its externals it is very much a golden ghetto. I worked very little at it except for a few weeks at the end of every semester, and there is something very nice about having your food paid for, even if it is cafeteria fare, housing you don't have to worry about, and a whole social life installed around you.

Yet the internal difficulties of moving from childhood to adulthood can be miserable while you are going through it.  After one has developed the strength of personality to choose whose opinions you will value and whose you will shrug off, it looks easy.  Why should you care what they think?  Ignore them. It looks easy now. For some, it was never a big deal.  Whether by inborn personality or good upbringing, some young people never had serious doubts about finding a place in the world.

For others, moving out of the house leads to the questions Will I have friends?  Will I be able to get some good job, one that is useful and pays me enough to live on?  Will someone want to marry me? Will I screw it all up and always be some lowlife or failure, like some others in my family/neighborhood/community?  Do I have what it takes to become a ______?

One of Jonathan's highschool classmates asked me out of the blue "Mr. Wyman, are these really the best years of our lives?" I was quick to say No.  You may have your best memories from your high school or college years, but the insecurities of them can make them difficult.  And your impulsive, emotional biology is against you as well. I used to say half-seriously that the teen suicide rate may stem from adults telling them "These are the best years of your life." That's just not true.  To reason back that you could breeze through the workload and expectations now is to miss the point.  Sure, after you learn to walk it's easy.  After you have passed Algebra II, adding fractions looks trivial.  After someone has proposed marriage, your fear of never getting asked on a date looks silly.

So I take some of what the protesters say at face value - they are just blaming all the wrong people.

They do feel inadequate and rejected. I think a certain amount of that feeling is just going to happen to you. And it does feel awful. If you are smart, you will think others reject you because of that.  If you are poor, you will put all your sense of rejection into that basket.  If you are black or have a foreign accent, or are the Wrong Sort Of Kid, or were abused, or have some disability, or have some unattractive feature, those will become the explanation why the world isn't fair and you are always one down and trying to stay afloat.

That is not all imaginary.  Of course there are bigots out there, and some soft racism that undermines your status.  Of course people are jealous because you are smart. Of course being in a wheelchair can make you socially invisible and adds an extra layer of difficulty to even the simplest acts. It's just not everything.  Some of it is just you, and you would have felt that way anyway.

Because sometimes life is hard.  It really is. I'm sorry no one told you that, or if they did, you weren't listening. Adults, especially conservatives, tend to wave that off shouldn't be feeling sorry for yourself, children in Africa are starving, etc. They are in a sense right because that is the eventual answer.  If you look around, you will find that others have it much tougher than you, and they get through the day somehow anyway.  They envy you. (I think foreign mission trips can be hugely important for the Christian growth of children, for that reason if no other. Life is hard, yet people with much harder lives get through. Go and do likewise.)

Try being old.  Try being schizophrenic. Try having a chronic illness. Try finding a parent who committed suicide.  I'm not saying this to tell you that you aren't feeling real pain.  You are. Finding a place in the world is hard for 90-99% of humanity. Always has been. The good news is that if you accomplish getting to moderately responsible adulthood, you deserve real credit for that.  No one's going to give you a medal, but you actually have accomplished something.

I thought Buddhism was popular at colleges these days.  Have you never heard that Life Is Suffering, or do they leave that out of the new, improved American Buddhism? It's true, and your pain is not just something you made up in your head.  You might be a whining baby, but not necessarily. Some of it's real.  Insofar as we can improve society so that racism or lookism or whatever don't add to your problems, we should do that.  But don't hold your breath.

And even if we do, life is still going to be hard.


Sam L. said...

Your mission today is to get thru the day. Other people will get in your way, some by accident, some by random motion, and some deliberately. Go around them. Realize that you are getting in their ways in exactly the same ways they are getting into yours. Take a deep breath, scream at the top of your lungs, make an ugly face, and move along.

Donna B. said...

Yes, to everything you wrote above. And... no. It really does take an extra-ordinary strength to realize and internalize what you're saying if one has some disability -- especially a physical (and therefore highly visible) disability to cope with. I don't mean to undermine the difficulties of immediately invisible disabilities, but those are different because they can be "delayed" to some extent. Ultimately that may make them the most difficult to deal with in the long run, but at least those sufferers are given a long run -- more time, more chances.

Pity those who have both.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Fair enough.

Unknown said...

Why does this posting bother me so much? I suppose I'm one of the lucky ones who found college and grad school to be a breeze ... those were the easy years. Only after college, did life strike hard.

This may sound harsh, but life gives us all disabilities. That's the nature of being human and there's no reason to "privilege" one disability over another by ranking one disability according to some sort of "misery index." I'm tired, frankly, of mewing students trying to one-up each other on the misery index, one in which gender, sexual, racial or other confusions compete for the plum status of being the apex disability.

Can't you tell those kids to shut up and get on with life?

Unknown said...

Do you think that the people hyped by the media are genuinely disenfranchised? I would be willing to accept that a fraction of them are, but not most. Cynical as I am, I assume that the media piggy backs(BANKS) on these narrative fads and promote them for the bottom line.
That said, no doubt about it, I agree maturity and experience are a major factor. In the past, most people did manage to outgrow this. I'm not sure that this is true now, given the feminization and infantalization of our culture.

RichardJohnson said...

We tend to pooh-pooh how difficult college life is, because in its externals it is very much a golden ghetto. I worked very little at it except for a few weeks at the end of every semester.

That may have been the life for a bright social sciences or humanities major, but it was decidedly NOT the life of a STEM major. You get behind in a STEM class, and you are sunk.

There are so many intellectual distractions on a college campus. There are speakers and concerts galore. The library presents so many interesting books and periodicals for perusal. One could be occupied from 8 a.m. to midnight in reading etc without ever touching class assignments. Not to mention interesting activities or bull sessions.

One thing I found out was that I didn't have the energy or discipline to work 20-40 hours a week and take a full STEM load. A relative by marriage- part Swedish descent from Chelmsford BTW- took a full load in textile chemistry while working second shift as a factory foreman. I don't know how the heck he did it. I couldn't have. When I was a kid, he seemed rather crabby. When I later realized what a stress he was under- full load of school + full load of work+ fatherhood- I realized it was no surprise he was crabby. In fact, considering the stress he was under, he was remarkably cheerful.

College was a difficult adjustment for me.I had to learn to focus, to block out of my awareness all that was not concerned with my class assignments. When I finally figured college out, classes and homework for classes took 60+ hours per week. It wasn't that I was stupid, it was that the STEM classes took everyone about that much time.

A bright kid at most high schools can coast by. I did, and my high school was considered to be very good. By contrast, if you have to spend 60+ hours a week studying in college, you have to give your all. Coasting will get you F's- at least in STEM 40 years ago.

It was a hard lesson for me to learn. Bright college days? Good riddance.

At the same time, I am rather scornful of those non-STEM students at college these days, as it appears that a lot of them don't work very hard, judging by the surveys on how much time per week spent on studying.

Donna B. said...

Vegard Claussen -- life gives some more disabilities than others. I was referring to the highly visible ones such as those due to traumatic brain injury (though some of those disabilities are also "invisible"). Life obviously gave you no disability of that type.

While I agree that a "misery index" isn't the answer -- ranking of disabilities is a necessity and it will never be done completely "fairly". Being a college student isn't a disability. Being black isn't a disability. Being offended isn't a disability.

It would be a horrible mistake to dilute the meaning of disability to " life gives us all disabilities".

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Richard: surname of that Swede from Chelmsford, please. I likely have a connection.

As for STEM, I started in math and took physics. Those took more work but were still doable. But being lazy, I saw it was only going to get worse.

Unknown said...

Richard, you make a good case for the difficulties and adjustments faced by many students. However, the difference is that you didn't blame others for what you went through or demand to be accommodated with lower standards etc.

Sam L. said...

My degree is in physics, with a lot of math. It was work, and I did less well than I should have.

Yes, life is hard. I thought it was John Wayne's line in one of his WWII movies, but I'm not finding it: Life is hard. It's harder when you're stupid.

RichardJohnson said...

Richard: surname of that Swede from Chelmsford, please. I likely have a connection.
His surname was Taylor. His middle name of Gustav came from the Swedish side. His mother would have been the Swedish connection, but I don't know her maiden name.

james said...

Funny how these things appear. I took some biology and thought about medicine, and decided they involved too much memorization. I was too lazy for that, so I stuck with my first choices.

Some of the non-STEM courses look pretty tough--languages, for example. Others (e.g. ethnic studies) seem like used food, and some others (literature) I'm not sure use the right paradigm--they seem to be interested in analytical studies rather than mastery.

Christopher B said...

Reading about the background of the probable architect of the Paris attacks provided a reminder that terrorism generally flourishes among the disaffected middle and upper middle classes, not the impoverished and oppressed, and noted a certain overlap with these protesters.

Laura said...

While I don't exactly disagree with you, I still think that you're missing something important about this. Namely, that one of the main reasons they're so stressed out about minor things, is that they have been systematically stripped of any major things to accomplish in their lives. All standards and deadlines are arbitrarily imposed, and all of them can be wheedled out of (mostly, simply by asking a single authority figure). The "work" they do is really make-work. It means nothing to anyone but themselves, and not much to them beyond the grade. Little or nothing is expected to be retained beyond the semester boundary, in most cases. Things move toward them on a conveyor belt, for the most part.

This is not normal or good for a human being. They are physically adults, but aren't being allowed to BE adults. The engine is sputtering, because it's starved of fuel.

What they need is the opposite of this all: real work, which matters to somebody other than themselves; real responsibilities and non-negotiable deadlines, with actual consequences if they miss; living with and caring for another person, no caveats or escape hatches (child, spouse, or parent; maybe all three). Then, their social lives will shrink back to the normal, healthy size, and they'll actually have that sense of perspective about "microagressions" (namely, that they are too "micro" to worry about when you have "macro" issues to work on).

Sam L. said...

Excellent comment, Laura!

james said...

Good point. Fruitless and insignificant--that's got to have some impact on them.

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