Small fish in a LARGE pond? Make Waves!
It is not easy jumping into a large pond with your dreams in one hand and your concerns in the other while everyone else and their mamma is doing the exact same thing. There is no reason to feel like you are not supposed to feel just the way that you feel because there is nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable about doing something that is new and is usually, by definition scary. So, just what is the solution to feeling insignificant? What can be done about being caught off guard by unforeseen circumstances while pursuing your dreams? And how are these two questions and their answers related? I will answer these questions and many more.
I have never experienced anything quite so, humbling as walking onto the campus of University of Washington for the first day of class. I finally understand the saying; “Small fish in a large pond,” because over 40,000 students converged into a seemingly endless wave flooding Red Square and classes. I just graduated from North Seattle Community College at the end of last spring and when I graduated I do not think that there were many people on the campus who either did not know me, or know of me. Now that may sound pomp, but not only do I tend to stand out like a sore thumb nowadays, but I was also on the student government and a hip hop head on campus. It is difficult not to be noticed when I do the types of things that I used to be terrified to do.
However, I have not always been popular, or as full of courage as I have been these last couple of years. In truth, I used to be a terrified, scrawny, nobody that people could forget just after I walked away. I could not stand up in front of any one and speak, could not speak to girls, and I used to lack the courage to even set goals, let alone to pursue them. I was as afraid of success as I was of failure, it was a true dilemma. There were many things that led to the change that occurred in my life, but I will start with two sayings that I have now fused themselves into my bones:
1) “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and this was important to me because I finally reached a point in my life that I was fed up with complaining about continuously ending up in the same position.
2) “When the pain outweighs the pain then we change,” and this was important because it means that when the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of doing something different, then it becomes less painful to do something new and we may then begin to change.
These two short and fairly simple sayings were simple enough to get through the fog that was my denial and yet complex enough to provide me with some real benefit. Yet, just being sick and tired of being sick and tired is not quite enough to effect any real change. It is like going onto a diet and jumping back off of it as soon as the weight is lost, only to regain the weight again because none of the long term habits have been revised. For a change to truly take hold and remain consistent, it must not only be sustainable, but it also has to have purpose behind it. That purpose is the direction the goals direct us into.
So, in effect, what I am saying is that for any change to become permanent, there has to be a goal attached to it and further that that goal must not have a completion date to it. I know that this seems counter intuitive, because the usual interpretation of a goal is that it is something to be achieved. However, you may decide to set a goal, like I did many times, actually achieve the goal, and do like I have done over and over again, and revert back to the old behavior once the goal was accomplished. So, the goal must have an achievement date, but for the purposes of manifesting the type of change that we are attempting to make, this needs to be a living goal that never fully comes to an end.
Yet, for a goal to truly take shape, you will have to get down to the roots, the causes and conditions to set a goal that will meet the requirements of what the problem truly is. Otherwise, the goal will answer something that is not the problem, if it answers anything at all. The problem that I had with feeling insignificant was not really that I felt unnoticed, in reality, it was more that I felt lonely. You see the amount of people was not actually that important, it was the quality of the relationships that I had. I will tell you from experience, you can know everyone in a large room and still feel alone. Being a creature, a human being that derives the necessary bonds from being connected with others, that we need the connections formed through relationships. Thus, my goal became to manifest life-long and healthy relationships with people that I was truly invested into their lives.
It is perhaps an ironic occurrence, but one cannot have friends if one is not a friend to others. That is why the essence of my goal was not to earn friends but to actually be a friend to others. It was not until I formed the initial goal, that I truly began to envision why I was so lonely; I had not learned how to be a friend to others. To be a real friend to another human being entails first, listening to them. This is more than just hearing them speak and waiting for your turn to jump in. It requires that you make the time and invest the energy to digest what their opinions, hopes, sorrows and dreams are, to question their assertions and respond to their concerns. Being friends with someone is not just about being heard because relationships are symbiotic in nature consisting of both giving and receiving what we need; each other.
The next component of being a friend, having friends and keeping them is the keeping of your promises. Morals govern our own actions and they also help us to govern our collective actions. And what is requisite for the nurturing of any relationship is that which is the basis of morality; honesty. Honesty entails the honoring of your promises. Without these two conditions being fulfilled, then there can actually be no relationship because without honesty we can never share our true selves or know anyone else’s true self; and without honoring our promises, then what we promise equates to lies and destroys the relationships we have. And without relationships our groups and consequentially all of society with it crumbles and is why honesty is the basis of all morality.
Society is such that we are taught and we learn how to protect that which is most venerable about us. Ironically, we tend to protect that which makes us most human. We protect that which makes us most unique and interesting to others; our idiosyncrasies and nuances, the secret thoughts that reveal our true character, our dreams. And instead of presenting this to the world we learn how to conceal this and put on a cookie-cutter-personality-face so that we can fit in the world and not stick out too much. And while this is a strategy that tends to work to help us survive the tumultuous gauntlet that is public life, it is also insanely difficult to learn how to shut it off. Thus, what tends to happen is that this front, this mask that we put on for the world, we continue to wear for our friends and they do not get to know who we really are because we are afraid to let them into our worlds. Sometimes it gets so bad that we can even forget who we really are. And if we do not know who we are, then how can we share ourselves with someone else? If we cannot share ourselves with someone else, then how can we be a friend? And if we cannot be a friend, then how can we have friends? These are important questions to consider as you think about this mask you wear for the world.
I effect what these masks do for us is to keep the world at a distance. However, therein lies the problem, it keeps the world at a distance and leaves us isolated from the people of the world, which is the opposite of what we truly want. This is the quintessential example of a paradox that we ourselves create whereby, the thing that we want most is also the thing that we are most afraid to allow because we are afraid that we will not be accepted for who we really are. We are afraid that we are not worth loving. I have found though, that when I have taken off my mask and let people know who I really am, that I have not been ostracized, I have not been laughed at, and I have actually been accepted and loved. This is how and when I started to have real relationships, relationships without the masks that I have trained myself to put on for the world so that I can fit in. The crazy part is that the world hates those masks and is just dying for us to take them off because we have been craving for contact with real human beings for so long we have forgotten what it feels like.
By this point you may be asking; “this is all fine and well, but where did you get the courage to approach others from?” And this is an important question because for many of us, and especially me, the act of introducing me to others used to paralyze me. To see me or to know me today, most people, unless they knew me when I was a teenager, would never believe that I was the shiest person you were likely to have ever met. Anyone who has ever witnessed me performing a piece of Spoken Word or a Hip Hop song would blatantly deny that I had ever been shy. However, I used to be terrified to be in front of a crowd of any size and do anything, and that includes walking to class. I used to get so worked up in what I thought other people saw, that I would trip over my own feet attempting to walk a straight line, let alone putting me on a stage to perform something that I had written myself. Nonetheless, that is precisely who I was when I was younger. I was terrified that people would see the chinks in my mask and discover who I truly was, a scared little boy crying out for affection.
Anyone who has ever felt like the all-seeing eye of the public was focused on them, like I did, may think that it is counter intuitive to assert that most people do not focus enough on others to actually notice all of our idiosyncrasies. Psychologists call this the “Spotlight Effect,” whereby we think that others notice all the little minute details about ourselves, but that is just not the case. There is just too many stimuli in the world to them focus on those minute details. For me, this was a true paradox because I felt that nobody noticed me at all and yet, at the same time I was also terrified that they noticed me too much. It is quite comical when I think about it now and I can chuckle, but back then it was the crucible of Hell for me. What I am getting at, is that I was not the center of the universe no matter how much I wanted to be. Nobody focused on me like they focus on the sun in the morning as it raises above the horizon, no, I was just plain old average Michael.
Being sick and tired of being sick and tired, having the pain outweigh the pain, and dying for some change I let all of my fear go and threw away my masks, all of them. At first, it was weird and horrifying, and was like walking around naked. I was like a hatchling bird poking its head in and out of its shell as I broke though getting a little taste of freedom and then diving back into the complacent warmth. They say that all you need is the faith of a mustard seed. Well, all it took was that first taste of liberation and I was hooked. I was like being woke from the Matrix (I took the green pill) and the world became brand new. For the first time in my life I was able to be myself and I could not go back if I wanted to. And that is when the strangest and most unforeseen result started to happen, when the people I met loved this contact with a real human being that they could relate to, I was accepted on the spot.
So, I started breaking all the rules that I had built up in my head. I used to be terrified to walk up to someone and reach out my hand and say, “hi, my name is Michael. How are you? What is your name?” and it was something so simple, but it may as well have been Jupiter that I was trying to reach before then. People are terrified of it, but they are so dying for a connection with another living, breathing, feeling human being that some will recoil in fear and the rest will jump all over the opportunity to be free as well.
The point that I am attempting to drive home is that most people are just as terrified as you are to make that first contact that they will appreciate your making the first move. When I finally realized that, and I knew that people really did love me for who I was, not what my mask showed the world that I was, it all got real easy. And it also allowed me to set the terms for the engagements, which means that I could make the approaches on my terms. The way I learned how to make the approach to other was I just got off my ass and did it!
This is the shape that the goal I initially made to earn friends took. It started out that I did not feel so ostracized, then turned into a goal to not feel lonely, which inevitably evolved into being a friend to others, and how to be a friend. And the goal finally concluded took its full shape with the dynamic of with how to make friends. Thus, I had actually developed a life-long plan of how to live and be a true friend, and this plan in turn has earned me the friends that I had always wanted. Today I no longer feel insignificant.
That answers my first question: “just what is the solution to feeling insignificant?” and now I will address the question of dreams. At the beginning of this discussion I mentioned that I had just begun to attend the University of Washington and how little of a blip that I was walking onto the campus. This effect can the subsequent feeling can be felt regardless of the size of the group you have just entered, but I will tell you from experience it is quite sobering to be confronted with 40,000 other students. It is true, that walking onto a campus of this size that one could feel estranged and unimportant. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with achieving a dream. Well, last year I attended a Students of Color conference hosted by several minority groups and several colleges and universities from the state of Washington and one of the primary things that they drove in was how we needed a network to be successful in a four year university.
If you are like me and have come from, or are coming from a small school where it was possible to know just about everyone, then a campus like this is a huge difference. I come from a place that just about any network that I could have desired was just a stone-throw-away from any place that I stood. By network, I mean a Social Network or rather a collection of people who are all engaged in some specific act and have shared goals. Two of the most important characteristics of a social network are the shared experiences that group members have and the experiences that can be shared about how to overcome adversities. People in these networks understand us and we do not have to explain, they just seem to implicitly know because they have either dealt with or are dealing with the same types of issues that we ourselves are going through.
I cannot even begin to try to explain how many times I have attempt to explain to a European American what it is like being an African American attempting to get an education, or the pain that is associated with it. There are just some things that I have to deal with that group of people are unfamiliar with, but other African Americans know precisely what my struggles are. This is not an attack on any one individual or any group this is simply an observation that has been confirmed repeatedly. And the observation also works in reverse, I am either not aware of all the circumstances that European Americans face or I do not understand them all. Now this is not to say that there are not benefits to forming groups, alliances and friendships with people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, quite the contrary in fact because they can be incalculably valuable. However, when I need help with some specific issue, or I need a confidant that I can express my troubles with it helps to have someone who understands where I am coming from.
Social networks have further importance as well. This is especially true if these social networks are formed around more than just race or ethnicity. Furthermore, there is no rule that states that any person can only be involved in one group. The more groups that we are linked into the more resources become available to us like; job opportunities, scholarship opportunities, events to join in, parties, study groups and the like. And perhaps most important to this discussion is that they gives us groups of people to belong to so that we do not have to feel so alone.
This brings us to the crux of this discussion, which is how not to feel so alone on a campus the size of this the University of Washington. Last week I walked onto the campus and every organization you can imagine that a campus would have; the Hip Hop Student Association, the Black Student Union; the History Honor Society; the Arm Wrestling Club, the Earth Club, and son on were tabling in Red Square and I just went up and got linked in. As I have said, I learned not to have to wear my masks in public any longer, and that people were dying to meet me just as much as I was dying to meet them, so I just walked up to the people that I thought were interesting and introduced myself. That is the purpose of tabling. They were there to meet people, so that is precisely what I did. I found out when they met and I joined in. Now that is not to say that I was not afraid, of course I was afraid, but I was more interested in making those connections and developing the networks that the people at the Students of Color Conference promised me would make all the difference to my success while I attend the university.
For example, I went to the meet and greet hosted by the Black Student Union and although I am of African American descent, sometimes I still feel out of place in a group of all Black people, because I do not speak much slang any longer and I do not do many of the things that (I think) they do, and so I feel as though I stick out. But, I do not have any more masks to wear, so when it came time for me to interact, I only had to choices; run or stay silent, or interact and make the friends that I have always wanted: and I chose to interact and I made those friends. You see, I have learned that who you are is not as important, as it is that you are.
The final component was making friends in class. Now this goes hand-in-hand with social networks because the people in you classes will be going through exactly the same struggles as you are as you are going through them. So, linking up with them will be vitally important to you meeting with success in school because they will have picked out different things as important from the material, will have notes that you missed and can help to make concept clearer for you. Plus, if you have not been to a university lecture hall you are in for a real treat, if you are an undercover nerd like I am because the lecture halls seat a minimum of 200 people. That was quite a shock to me when I walked in because I was used to 30 person classrooms where I could touch my professor. So, having a few friends in the lecture hall will turn that ginormous room into something very manageable for you.
The first thing was that I had to read my books. This may seem like an over simplification and something that need not be said. However, I cannot begin to tell you how many students come to a university and do not read their books. (Why does someone waste the $20,000 + per year on tuition if, they do not want to learn, it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, but it happens.) The point is to earn your degree so that we can become successful in life and in order for that to be possible, we have to learn the material and that includes reading our books, but I digress and that is a topic for another discussion. The point is, having a meager understanding of the material as I walk into class allows me to be able to have a dialogue with both the other students in the classroom and the professor before, during and after the lecture. So that when the professor asks a question, I can raise my hand and more often than not, I have the answer because I have read the material. I know you may be like, “you are one of those people,” and let me tell you what, there are more people there who want to be successful than not, so those are the people that the rest of the people want to know because if you are that person then people will want to study with you and thus, you attract the people to you.
Second, is that just like with the Black Student Union, I walked into the classroom the very first day, having completed the reading for the week and I started introducing myself to everyone that was in a close vicinity to me. I sit in the front row and that means that I have to get there early enough to get my seat. I do this because I went to a lecture presented by a man named John Vroman, who wrote a book titled; Living College Life in the Front Row, and gave a lecture on how to be successful in college. Basically what he said was that you have to get right up in the mix. The natural tendency for people that are like me, who have traditionally not liked to stick out is to find a place in the back. And this may have its origin in that African Americans were traditionally told to sit in the back, and the theory of Oppisitional Identity, which states that it is not cool for an African American to be intelligent or academically active and engaged. Thus, what I have learned is that in order for me to be successful is to shatter those negative stereotypes, break my negative perceptions of who I think and other think that I am supposed to be, and to sit in the front row. What I have found is that the other people in the front row were just as engaged and determined to meet with success as I was/am.
The result is that now all of my professors and teachers know me on a first name basis and so do many of the students on campus. On a campus of over 40,000 students I am no longer just an outlier and I am set up with some of the most profound and strongest leaders. As such, I am set to meet with success. When you are a small fish in a large pond, do not just wade in and become an outlier feeling insignificant. Jump in with both feet, Cannon Ball that SHIT!!! And make waves.
This realization came hand in hand with the realization that in order for me to have a friend, I first had to be a friend; and that in order for me to meet with success I had to have friends, I could not do it alone. That I had to throw off the bondage of my pride and get rid of the masks I was wearing so that I could truly be myself and make some real connections. And that myself, without the front was worth being both loved and appreciated. Be yourself and makes waves through the lives of the people who are just dying to meet you, the real you, and set yourself on the path to achieving your dreams.
Reflections of My First Quarter at the University of Washington
Regardless of how impossible the achievement of my dreams seems at times I have found that my fears are often not based in reality. The reality is that, yes it is true that, our world is full of hardships and even set-backs, but it is also true that I have been granted everything that I need to overcome those obstacles. The sobering reality lay also in the fact that even though I have been granted everything I need to overcome any and all obstacles that are set before me, that I still forget it from time to time and find myself wallowing in self-doubt, remorse, self-pity and shame as if I, Michael Anthony Moynihan was destined to be a failure. And no matter how much my brain may try to convince me of these things when times get rough and I am faced with hardships, it is simply not the case that I am destined to be a failure because I am meant for greatness and so are all of you.
Quite some time ago I set out to record the experiences I have had while I trudge through the higher education system on my way to earning a Law degree for three reasons: (1) to process what I have been through; (2) so that I have a record of my experiences to refer back to; (3) and most importantly, so that I can share my hardships and successes with all of you who are either going through the same struggle that I am or you are interested in pursuing higher education and want to know what to expect and some tactics to meet with success. In this particular essay I will be analyzing my first quarter at the University of Washington, challenging the assumptions that I held when entering the school, exposing the difficulties that I met during the quarter and how they were overcome.
When I graduated from North Seattle Community College (NSCC) in June of 2013 with my Associate of Arts degree, and was honored as the valedictorian I thought I had this higher education thing figured out. Yet, when I got to the University of Washington (UW) I discovered that I was sadly mistaken. Now although my education at NSCC was and is an invaluable asset, and I definitely had to put every ounce of my being into successfully completing the program, I was not as prepared for the transition to university life as I thought. I had it worked into my head that I was going to carry the same success with the same techniques from community college into the university setting and that I was going to continue to earn the 4.0’s of which I had grown so accustomed. As Sarra Tekola, a seasoned student at the University of Washington in the Environmental Science program and an Audubon scholar, a UW Diversity merit scholar, and a McNair UNCF scholar put it:
“You cannot use the same strategies at the university level that you used at the community college level and expect to meet with the same level of success. You are going to have to adapt and it is not going to be easy, but I have no doubt that you will be able to handle it. Just remember, that if you were to just come to this school and start earning 4.0’s, then the school would not truly be challenging you and it would not be doing you any good. The fact that you are not earning 4.0’s, right now, is proof that you are being challenged so, do not be discouraged, all transfer students go through this their first quarter at the University of Washington, but we all also caught ahold of the ropes. You got this.”
Sarra said this to me when I came to her for advice halfway through the quarter and I was bashing my head against the wall in disgust at my apparent lack of ability to adapt. Advice that I desperately needed because I was just about ready to throw my hands up and call it quits. I assumed that I would not have to invest any more effort into my education at the UW than I had at NSCC, but that was not the case. Their expectations at the University of Washington are ten-fold what they were at my community college. I was expected to accomplish two to three times as much reading every week, on top of the assignments that were due, and to be able to comprehend the material and synthesize compelling arguments that compared and contrasted all the material covered throughout the quarter. In short, I was expected to have a complete and intimate understanding of all the material covered and to have it stored in memory for quick retrieval in practical application scenarios. I was not prepared for that, and as such, I was caught off guard and I felt unworthy because I was not performing at the level that I expected to be performing at. Miss Tekola’s words of encouragement and reassurance came at just the right time and told me precisely what I needed to hear: the UW is not community college and the same techniques that worked for me there will not work at the university level, but don’t give up because the first quarter is always the hardest, it is the transition period after which you will know what is expected of you and how to accomplish that.
The next major hurtle that I encountered centered primarily on other people’s opinions. It is true that I have just endorsed the opinions of Sarra Tekola, and although it may not be explicitly evident all the time, not everyone’s opinion, or rather not every opinion is of the same value. If it is the case that, you have wisely chosen the direction of your life, then it is not the case that, when you encounter hardships that opinions of encouragement and discouragement are of the same value. First of all, life is full of hardships and earning a degree is no exception to this fact. Second, and perhaps more important, is that opinions of discouragement dissuade us from accomplishing our goals, and if we are dissuaded from our goals then it may be the case that we accomplish nothing. While in contrast, opinions of encouragement will in times of despair, reinforce our own resolve to accomplish those goals. Thus, if the measure of other people’s opinions is measured in terms of whether or not they help us to achieve our goals, then not all opinions are of the same value and when we have justifiable goals, then encouraging opinions are to be valued above discouraging opinions. Tekola’s opinions were of the encouraging sort, so they are to be valued because they have helped me to achieve my goals; that is why I have endorsed her opinions.
However, when I began to have trouble during my first quarter at the University of Washington, in particular with the philosophy course that I was taking and I made mention of it, one of the major opinions I heard in response to my concerns was to “give up on philosophy”. And although I disagreed with this opinion entirely, if nothing has come through more clearly in my first course in philosophy then it is this: before an argument can be rejected, it must first be analyzed and then either one or all of the premises must be questioned and rejected or the reasoning drawn from the premises (the conclusion) must rejected, but it cannot be rejected on solely emotional grounds. The basic reason given for not pursuing a degree in philosophy was that they believed it to be a useless discipline, but I challenge that premise.
Before this quarter began I decided that I was going to major in both history and philosophy because they are two of the primary degrees that people get before going to law school. The history degree will teach me how to do research, which is what precedent law in America is all about, and it will also teach me how to analyze the documents that I uncover through my research, which is precisely what will be necessary to prove any case. The philosophy degree will teach me about moral and ethical frameworks, which are vitally necessary for the organization of humans in society and for the creation and interpretation of that society’s laws. It will also teach me how to analyze and to form arguments, which is an essential skill of a great lawyer. Thus, philosophy is not a useless discipline, at least not for me and my aims, or for anyone who intends to participate in law or politics in any measure.
The second and more troubling premise of the argument that was made for my giving up on philosophy was inherent in their assertions, though implicit in their arguments: if it is tough, and it since is unnecessary, then you should not do it. However, as I have shown philosophy is not an unnecessary discipline already, I will focus on the former portion of the claim, that “if it is tough… you should not do it.” If that assertion were true, then we would not have Olympic gold medalists, and nor would slavery have been abolished, nor would women have been enfranchised with the success of the suffrage movement. The list could go on ad infinitum, but I think that these examples make the point explicitly clear that some pursuit being tough does not justify not doing it.
Which brings us back to the initial assertion in this line of reasoning, “if it is the case that, you have wisely chosen the direction of your life, then it is not the case that, when you encounter hardships that opinions of encouragement and discouragement are of the same value.” I have shown that the reasoning behind my decision to pursue a degree in philosophy was sound, so it was not the case that I selected my classes poorly or that they did not fit within my overall objectives. And since I have also shown that the premises of the assertion that I “should give up on philosophy” are faulty, then it must also be the case that the conclusion is false. Since it is not the case that I should give up on philosophy, then it must be the case that the opinions of discouragement that were offered to me when I expressed dismay in my progress at the University of Washington are to be devalued because they do not help me to achieve my goals.
All of this reasoning has been accomplished in retrospect, but when I was in the middle of my last quarter it was not so clear and based on those opinions which would have derailed my progress, I almost decided to not continue my pursuit. That is the unfortunate outcome of discouragement and it is my belief that we may all be likely to encounter this type of thinking. The way I overcame this was to take more than a few moments of serious thought to discern what and why I was doing it, so I asked myself; “Why am I studying philosophy?” I have shown you the reasoning and the answer that came from that line of inquisition. This was a vital step, and though I did fully question and answer that question prior to my deciding to earn a philosophy degree, I did forget it once I was under the pressure of potentially failing one of my first courses at the University of Washington. Until this question was answered I could not discern which line of opinions, the encouragement or the discouragement was in my best interest and I was just as susceptible to be influenced by both because I could not assign value to either. That is why it is so important to take this step and evaluate why you are doing what you are doing, because we have to be able to evaluate the opinions that will flood our thoughts as we progress through our ambitions and we have to be able to discern which opinions to listen to and which opinions to disregard. To give the people who provided me with those discouraging opinions credit, if it had not been for them then I would not have question my actions for myself and I would not have come to the conclusion that I drew. And it was because I drew the conclusion that it was necessary for me to earn the philosophy degree that I am after that I started to value the encouraging opinions and reinforce my ambition to succeed with resolute determination to do so. This is why I endorsed Sarra Tekola’s opinions at the beginning of this paper and why what she said made such a difference in the outcome of my quarter.
The outcome of the psychological battle that goes on in our own heads can make the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure, between achieving our goals and leaving empty handed. I have just detailed for all of you the primary aspects of the psychological battle that I went through last quarter and how with help, I was able to overcome it. But that was only the beginning. That victory had to be translated into action in order for me to meet with success. I had to reevaluate my approach to learning at the University of Washington and revise the techniques that worked for me at North Seattle Community College and I had to learn a new way to learn.
As I stated earlier: “I was expected to have a complete and intimate understanding of all the material covered and to have it stored in memory for quick retrieval in practical application scenarios.” Before I got to UW, it was sufficient for me to read a chapter once and incorporate 30% or so to memory taking only the key points with me. However, that method was inadequate for me at UW because my courses not only expected memorization, but also a deep comprehension of the material and a synthesis of my own opinions on what I read. Until I got to UW I did not know that there was a difference between rote memorization and comprehension or how important it was to distinguish between the two. For example, there is a big difference between memorizing the rules for how to manipulate an equation in algebra and applying those techniques to a word problem wherein one has to create an equation to solve the problem. Discerning the solution requires an intimate understanding of how the rules function and how they can be manipulated. Just as memorizing a specific equation would be inadequate for solving such a problem, so was just memorizing 30% or so of my philosophy book for synthesizing arguments in support of or against a particular philosopher or ideology. In short, there is a big difference between memorization and learning how to think for ourselves and that is what I was unprepared for when I began classes at the University of Washington.
I quickly found that the method I had of reading through a chapter once was inadequate and in many cases I had to reread a chapter several times and even at times tear them apart line by line to achieve the level of understanding that was expected of me. To accomplish the transition from how I was reading to how I needed to read required an increased investment in the amount of time that I allotted to each chapter and a level of concentration higher than I was unaccustomed to. I cannot stress how important that extra investment has been to my understanding of the material and my ability to think about the things that I am learning. That was the key to success at the University of Washington. The primary difference I made by changing the amount of time I dedicated to each chapter was made to my understanding of each chapter. By spending longer in each chapter it allowed me the time necessary for me to actually think about the things that I was reading. And it was that thought process that allowed me not only to memorize the material I was expected to memorize but to also formulate my own thoughts on what I was reading. We cannot have thoughts about what we read if we do not think about what we read. I know that this may seem like a bit of common sense, but I assure that it was not for me. I had to learn that the hard way. What I have found is that people and particularly at the University of Washington are not as interested in what we read as they are in what we think about what we read. The same is true for society and that includes professional situations like politics. People want us to have an opinion, not simply to be academics who, are on the fence on important issues. In other words, people value our thoughts and it is our thoughts that are valuable.
The last major change to my learning process that I had to enact at the University of Washington was giving up on the concept that I can do everything alone. I do not like to depend on other people and I have avoided it like the plague. However, I have learned that I do not pick up on everything embedded in the material that I read and that some of the things that I miss others pick up on. Furthermore, one of the best ways to improve your understanding of a subject is to debate it. Based on those reasons I started to take part in study groups both throughout the quarter and to prepare for exams. It is so crazy to think that the way America is, it places us in competition with one another and continuously advocates the advantage of being an individual that can do things on their own. But the truth is that we function better as groups. And since we are communal creatures the assertion that we function better as groups only makes sense. As a result of these two major changes to my method of learning, in the space of one quarter, I went from assimilating about 30% of what I read to assimilating more than 70% of what I read and I am now able to wade through the strengths and weaknesses of arguments and apply them to real life scenarios in real time.
I did not walk out of my first quarter at the University of Washington with 4.0’s, and in fact I did not earn one 4.0 at all. The truth is that since I started college, this has turned out to been the worst quarter in terms of grades that I have had so far. I earned a 3.0 in Socio-Linguistics, a 3.1 in Philosophy and a 3.6 in History of the Middle East with a 3.23 cumulative G.P.A. But as Sarra Tekola said, “if you were to just come to this school and start earning 4.0’s, then the school would not truly be challenging you and it would not be doing you any good. The fact that you are not earning 4.0’s, right now, is proof that you are being challenged so, do not be discouraged.” What I learned and earned my first quarter at UW was far more important than a 4.0. I learned that my thoughts are important, that I can rely on other people, that I can synthesize the material I read into a coherent train of thought, and that I am worthy of being a student at the University of Washington. I learned that I have selected the correct degrees for what I want to do with my life and I have a firm grasp of who I am, what and why I am doing it, and how I intend to achieve my goals. Most importantly, I have surrounded myself with people who believe in me and my goals and are willing and able to provide me with the necessary feedback on my thoughts and encouragement to achieve my goals. Most importantly, just as Tekola promised me, I have made the transition from the community college level to the university level and I am prepared to continue my education at the University of Washington because I have caught ahold of the ropes.
I got this.
The Relevance of Philosophy in Both Global and Domestic Debates
People quietly dismiss the relevance of Philosophy but proceed to complain about the state of the world and the state of our relationships with each other because we tend to hold others or feel that people share or “should” have some form of moral responsibility to others.
One argument against philosophy as a discipline for defining our moral responsibilities is for religion’s capacity to perform that function. Yet, with all of the contradictions found not only in one religion but between the religions of the world that becomes an exceedingly difficult argument to justify and support.
This however, would still prove to be of great benefit if we were not confronted with globalization wherein groups interact. In that type of situation the moral obligations of individual groups tend to conflict with one another, which is why there is so much tension of what people or nations are morally responsible to do or to abstain from doing.
Philosophy, at least as much as I understand it thus far, when it is concerned with morality and ethics seeks to define an over-arching ethical framework that transcends those boundaries. And is why I believe that Philosophy should not just simply be dismissed, aside from the fact that we all seem to practice and respect the fact that moral responsibility is important.
The Significance of “Black Friday”
One of the coolest gifts of being in school is that I get to learn about our world, what we have done, what we are doing, and what we have the capacity to do as human beings. I think one of the freshest aspects of studying history is that I have the opportunity to learn facts and concepts that have shaped our civilization. And then as a cap to all of that, I have been granted the privilege to evaluate that information and those assertions with my studies of philosophy, whereby I am learning how to use and design moral frameworks from which I can evaluate the implications of what has been done and what “should” be done in the future in terms of what is justified and what is obligated of human beings; and I can base my interpretations in historical fact.
Last night I came across term Black Friday in my history textbook; “A History of the Modern Middle East” (William L. Cleveland, 2013), and it was a tragic scene in Iranian history. And before I make it seem like this is to present a negative perspective of Iran, or any Middle Eastern country, what I am going to tell you about this event has occurred in some fashion in every culture, nation, state and society that I have studied so far. As it turns out “Black Friday” was a term used to describe the response of Muhammad Reza Shah’s regime to a large mass of unarmed students, workers and other civilians protesting the actions of the regime. On Friday, September 8, 1978 Reza Shah’s regime marched tanks, helicopter gunships, and army into the crowds and killed hundreds of unarmed civilians to quell the protesters and silence them.
After reading that, I questioned when the term “Black Friday” was coined and why because as I am sure most of you are aware of it is associated with the Friday that follows the American holiday Thanksgiving, that occurs on the fourth Thursday of November. (The point of this post is not to call into question the moral implications of that holiday, that will be for a later post.) The contemporary meaning of Black Friday, according to blackfriday.com, since 1924 and the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade, has marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season wherein companies move from the “Red into the Black” a term used to signify an end to making a loss and earning a profit.
I fact-checked those claims with snopes.com and found that the term was coined in 1951, in reference to employees calling in sick to work the Friday after Thanksgiving Day. The site further notes that in the early 1960s in Philadelphia the police termed the traffic problems related to the shopping in the metropolitan district as “Black Friday”. Snopes.com also confirmed the usage of the term that blackfriday.com mentioned in regard to it being the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Snopes.com however, discredited the claim that “Black Friday” was a term coined to descibe a special business day for the selling of slaves in the 19th Century.
However, in all of this research, I did not see any reference to what occurred in Iran in 1978 under the rule of Reza Shah of the Pahlavi Dynasty. My initial concern was that here in America we could have transmitted a term used to define an atrocity to mean something different, that is actually celebrated and rewarded annually. The transition in the meaning of terms is not something that is unheard of. Many of us in the United States are either familiar with or use the term “A Rule of Thumb,” to mean a general rule of operation, or in other words a maxim, but most of us do not know where it comes from. Nonetheless, the “Rule of Thumb” refers to the legal rule that if a stick was not wider than the diameter of the husband’s thumb, that he was legally justified in beating his wife with it. This was the grounds for my concern and what motivated my research into the etymology of the term. And I have been able to clear up, that the usage of the term to describe the initiation of the holiday shopping season predates the atrocity in Tehran, Iran by more than ten years.
Before leaving you all, I would like to briefly comment on the significance of the 1978 event, wherein the regime utilized the military to suppress the voices of the people who were expressing discontent. As I mentioned earlier, this is not something that is contained only to Iran, or the Middle East. We have to only peer into U.S. history and we will be acquainted with the suppression of African Americans during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, who were voicing dissent and the police riot guards were called in to suppress them. Or more recently, when the protesters participating in the Occupy movement were suppressed to start to form an idea that suppression of dissent is not something that only happens outside of the United States, or is contained to the distant past.
As citizens of this world, no matter what country we live in, whether it is a democratic state or it is hierarchical, or its state government is based on the observance of religion, or a monarch; the consistent pattern is that when the voice of dissent is suppressed it lead to outcomes in that nation or state that are undesirable to population as a whole. Sometime suppression is more implicit than armed forces marching into the metropolitan area of a city and murdering hundreds of civilians. One type of power concerns the control of the agenda. This is important because even in a democratic society wherein the people are “allowed” to have a voice, if the agenda of what they can voice an opinion about is constrained, then those in power with the motivation to protect that power can situation that agenda to ensure that the issues that most threaten their position are never brought up to vote upon.
The United States is largely a consumer society that bases much of identity in Spending Power or the prestige that comes from possessing such power. Furthermore, in a society wherein Conspicuous Consumption, which signifies that status symbols (clothes, cars, watches, etc..) are used to delineate social class and thus power, the citizens of such a society have a vulnerability that can be exploited by those in power. To connect this to the previous ideas of the suppression of dissenting voices and controlling the agenda, when the elites can focus the populace’s attention on consumerism, attaching their self-worth to how much they can buy (Social Trappings), they can effectively control the agenda. If this line of reasoning is accurate, then the citizens of the United States are systematically having their dissenting voices suppressed by consumerism.
So, while it may not the case that the term “Black Friday” was explicitly designed and coined to represent the oppression of people and the suppression of dissenting voices, it is nonetheless clear that an argument can be made to support the claim our voice of dissent can be suppressed by such means.
And to think, that all of this thought came from one paragraph in my history textbook… Yeah, I love school. I decided to go to school to get an education and what has occurred is that it has changed the way I think about the world. I am now being armed with the skills and the knowledge to evaluate the world we live in. And this is precisely the reason that I decided to go to school.
“A History The Modern Middle East” by William L. Cleveland; 2013