Amid the disarming shock of having so little to do on Monday, as I watched the winds getting stronger from my room and heard the occasional scream as students flouting the curfew encountered various flying objects outside, I decided to do something I hadn’t in a while: read the entirety of the YDN opinion page. Therein I found many anxieties common to Yalies, ranging from concern about post-graduation employment to the importance of spending time with family amid our oh-so-busy lives to the typical Yale jeremiad against conservatism. Facebook was also a continuing aggregate of student sentiment. Friends posted songs of thanks to Yale for keeping us safe and paeans to our truly brave dining hall staff — many of whom drove home as the storm bore down on the Connecticut coast.
It’s true. Yale knows how to handle these situations well. Never have I been so comforted at receiving so many emails from Linda Koch Lorimer in the span of a day.
But there’s also been a creeping feeling growing inside of me, predating this storm. It’s been growing the more I read angst-ridden columns, the more I talk to friends, the more I wonder about what my own life will look like. Indeed, this other storm — which seems to have made landfall a long time ago, even if unnoticed — threatens to do much more damage to the Yale student body than Hurricane Sandy.
It has become clear how obscenely narrow most students’ realities at Yale are. Many of us burn through our four years with our post-graduation lives always in the front of our brains. We spend so little time contemplating things just for their own sake, and we forget how to enjoy activities and people who don’t seem to matter in the context of our extremely limited criteria for success. We proceed to shake our heads (er, respectfully disagree) at those who differ politically.
Every Yalie acknowledges these problems, but rarely do we do anything about them. We pause, we reflect for a moment and then we move on.
What if we designated a month of the upcoming summer to roam the foothills of Nepal with a friend — and not for the purpose of teaching English to Nepalese schoolchildren? Or, for the religious, made a pilgrimage to a holy site? We could propose a vacation idea to our families. We could find that student we’ve always disagreed with and start a conversation about his views, rather than disagreeing from afar.
Reflection is great, but we should act on our observations and self-critiques after we make them.
Complacency here is so easy to come across. The continuous treadmill that is life at Yale, with all its conveniences, makes following ambition and seeking achievement too easy. We are as far removed as we will ever be from the nasty, brutish and short world beyond. What we often fail to see is that in this faux world in which we live, embracing insignificance — even just a little — would make us far more mature. It would help us understand what it means when people drive through a hurricane just so our unrealistic state of being can be maintained.
Some of my best friends tell me they feel uninspired by their activities, that they had fallen in love with an academic interest and that they can’t seem to commit to anyone amid the boom-and-bust cycles of their romantic relationships. Friendship seems to come naturally here, but is a person who you see on a biweekly basis for a one-hour time slot a friend? Has their loyalty, empathy, or respect for you been tested? Has yours?
Yale was once idealized as a place dedicated to making its students invested in things: in each other, in ideas. It used to teach and foster friendship, love and virtue — and in doing so, to prepare people for the real world, even if they got to live in an artificial one for a while. All this is certainly gone, and the University doesn’t even profess to teach these things amid the prevailing skepticism of the day.
But Yale students are still smart, and — even if they don’t realize it — notice in bits and pieces that this place’s thinking has changed, and for the worse. They feel it in their everyday lives.
It’s now up to us to teach ourselves what this university won’t: contemplation and virtue. Yale’s hollow marble can’t protect us from our own immaturity, superficiality and inaction.
John Aroutiounian is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .