I appreciate the contradiction in this post - I admit that straight away. Still, give me some room here.
Weeks back I read an address made by William Deresiewicz at the West Point Naval Academy in 2007. His premise, on the surface, is like many others: we are constantly stimulated by our phones, our computers, and our tablet devices. When do we ever spend (uninterrupted) time with our own thoughts?
He does something with that tired refrain, though. He explains why it cultivates a crisis of leadership.
Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.
Now, he goes into much more depth but I won’t spend time here summarizing his words. Read them for yourself.
But yes, there is the rub: in the face of an argument about thinking for yourself, here I am talking about another man’s ideas. Cut me some slack, I beg. I have been a student for my entire life — I spend countless hours nose-deep in the thoughts of others. And just a fraction of that composing my own essays.
Even then, let’s be honest. As students, the essays we compose are rarely truly original. Original to us perhaps (first-time “aha!” moments). These are valuable certainly — the last thing I want to do is devalue student work.
At some point though the schools genuinely expect us to contribute to the existing body of literature. I spent the better part of last week spinning my wheels. How in hell am I going to live up to these expectations?
Deresiewicz stayed with me, in part, because curiosity impelled me to go to graduate school. Voracious would be the closest word I would put to myself. I want to read this and that and…everything. (Well, maybe not about broad swathes of the natural sciences but I do see their value.)
But I don’t see yet what I have to contribute to all the rest. Oh, obviously I have opinions that can prompt hours of conversation. I haven’t found my focus, though. And in an always-competitive “publish or perish” university in a fast-paced city I feel that I am playing catch up.
If I step back I recognize that writing in settings like this one clarifies the noise — it creates an opening for quiet considerations. And that outside all of the insecurity, I am probably in a much better place for my worries. Something is going on up there in that head of mine.
Thanks for listening.