“Life has never been normal.”

Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. Periclean Athens leaves us not only the Parthenon, but, significantly, the Funeral Oration. The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward. Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature.

— C. S. Lewis: Learning In War-Time

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On Fear

I fear failing.

I fear that if I fail at anything I will hate myself, and everyone else will hate me too. People who like me will be disappointed and lose interest in me, and everyone else will mock and despise me.

On the one hand, this can be a good motivator to– for example– really pay attention to the instructions at work. But on the other hand, I have many times in the past decided it was easier to just not to do the thing I might not be good at.

The problem with using fear as a crux point is that it keeps me in my comfort zone of skills I’ve already mastered.

In the past I’ve avoided all forms of sports, most social interactions, board games, fashion, television, exotic food, travel, education, new jobs, refining my art form, and charitable work because I’m afraid I’ll do them poorly and everyone (including myself) will hate me for it.

When you really look at the situation, that’s a horrible way to live a life, eh?

I started thinking about this because I had a philosophy quiz on Tuesday and I really did not do well. I am not saying this with false modesty. The internet ate my exams so I got to do it over again, and I think I managed to improve my grade by the fact that the second time around I used full sentences instead of fragments. It was not a good moment.

And this failure just crushed me. I was physically sick to my stomach, I seriously considered dropping the course because I clearly wasn’t suited for it, and it took apple crumble and a successful poetry club meeting to get me to stop planning ways to flee the country. The emotional roller-coaster was so extreme I started thinking about it. And not only should I not entirely lose it over a quiz worth 3.75% of my mark, even if I did fail the course in one fell stroke it shouldn’t entirely destroy my self worth.

So here’s to breaking down the walls of that particular prison.

Do you have anything Important to say?

Nothing– Jonathan Toon
Last week was the first International Studies class, and clearly we had to do one of those “go around the table and say your name and something interesting about yourself” ice-breakers. I’m usually a fan of those events, because, well, you learn interesting things about your classmates! This time, though, we did things a little differently. The information we were to share was our names, and– if we had the opportunity to put up a billboard that would be seen by millions of people– what would be on that billboard?

By the way, this is a really effective get-to-know-people-fast activity. You go straight to what everyone thinks other people should know about, no meandering through talk about the weather and where everyone is from.

In my traditional fashion when asked questions, I fell back on things I’ve seen on tumblr. (Wait, you don’t know that’s my tradition now? It totally is. Moving with the times, I am! I’m HIP!) I thought of an image I’d seen earlier in the week and thought was mildly to moderately profound, which said “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Photo Credit: Julian Bialowas

And then I thought about it, and that actually is something I would really like to tell other people. Not because people are mean to me, but because it was such a ground-breaking thing for me to figure out myself. I went for ages not even cluing into the fact that other people even HAD issues. (And they called me an observant child… ) But if I think of other people as persons with their own individual struggles and aspirations, they are all at once more interesting and deserving of my concern.

I think the particular blindness I was suffering from before has two base reasons. The first is that it’s one of the classic markers of teenager-hood to believe that no one else has ever had it as hard as I personally (me me me me) have it. Especially if I’m especially conscious of being “weird,” it is a fast and easy extrapolation to decide that all other people are not like me. So all my sufferings are more intense and unique: therefore they’re important than anyone else’s. And my selfishness is justified!

Yeah, there’s a reason why “teenager” is also a synonym for “immature.”

But moving on from my lack of developed brain, there is also the fact that much of our culture reduces anyone we don’t know personally to numbers and stats. News comes in from all over the world, presenting information about events we have minimal connection with, and over time all these disasters that don’t touch us have a numbing effect. We don’t feel nearly as bad when we hear about some other person having been maimed in a car accident as we do when a friend is injured.

And when you think about that, it’s just a depraved state of mind. When did we start not caring about other people, and how can we make it stop? (Of course, it’s possible that everyone else has extreme empathy for every other person on the planet and I’m just a psychopath/still a teenager in heart, but I really hope not. Otherwise this post suddenly becomes really awkward.) So something I’d like other people to think about would be that everyone else really is fighting a hard battle. Everyone else is INTERESTING, and they have a story, and you should want to help them because they’re people. Talk to them.

And in closing;