KYZIVAT: Doing less

It is amazing to see the complexity and fullness of our schedules at Yale. Our university is a remarkably rich place, full of a spectrum of student organizations, tantalizing talks, celebrity appearances and innumerable other events of every type. One needs only to look at the bulletin boards around campus or the Gcal of the person sitting in front of him in lecture to find evidence of the extensive planning and organizing that goes on here.

Yet, amidst all of this finery, these sparkling appearances, this relentless intellectual stimulation, I have to wonder if we haven’t gone a little too far. We have a campus culture that is rooted in being busy, and sometimes this can be problematic. Learning requires reflection, just as body function requires sleep — and oftentimes both are overlooked here. I am not lashing out against the laudable work of student organizations, departments and residential colleges. I simply believe that it is healthy for ourselves and our community to be aware of the need for emotional and temporal space, which is essential if we are to reflect, digest and act spontaneously.

My dean once said that no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to experience more than 5 percent of what Yale has to offer. So why shoot for the 6 percent? Is there not merit in doing a few things deeply, rather than many things superficially? In a campus so full of youthful energy, we may get the impression that as students, we are resilient and able to heap commitments upon ourselves. This attitude can be harmful.

Life, especially in college, is a delicate balance between work and leisure, obligation and desire, other and self. When we stress this balance by piling on commitments as individuals, we constrain ourselves to the professional roles that we set. We become singers and writers first, and friends and neighbors second. Given the oft-repeated saying, “Work hard, play hard,” it is easy to see where this culture of busyness comes from. Everybody seems to always be doing something. Idle time is perceived as time wasted.

Whether we consciously think it or not, this mentality is misguided. Empty time and thought-space is necessary for a healthy lifestyle and learning environment. No matter what pressures we feel or goals we set, time for ourselves must be a bottom line. Any other use of it would be wasteful.

When October Break, a relatively new fixture in the Yale academic calendar, arrives, Yale students and faculty will have the opportunity to enjoy some of this scheduled space — whether at home, traveling, or on campus. For those staying here, this is the perfect time to make use of some of the green spaces in New Haven. We are surrounded by a refreshing number of secluded, beautiful spots. One has only to venture into a residential college courtyard; one of our libraries or galleries; Marsh Botanical Gardens; or my personal favorite, the Sterling Courtyard (currently closed for construction), to find a convenient place for quiet reflection. For others this place of reflection can be found on the sports field, or in a concert hall or common room. Whatever the method, we should become more aware of what we consider “doing too much” — and how our placement of this limit can effect others beyond ourselves by contributing to a culture of hurriedness.

In the late 19th century, planners such as Frederick Law Olmsted pioneered the concept of the parkway. It was believed that designing parks along transportation corridors would extend their benefits to a wider geographic area. Even today, this principle is used to promote slower driving, as more scenic roadways discourage drivers from hurrying. Similarly, it is easy to become stuck on the speedway of Yale, looking ever forward. But if we take the time to notice our surroundings, we may find ourselves easing off the gas pedal — and noticing others beside us.

Ethan Kyzivat is a junior in Morse College. Contact him at ethan.kyzivat@yale.edu.

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