On Campus

A tug-of-war with my self

University no escape from high-school cliques

The process of self-discovery I long anticipated to occur in first year of university is in full-swing. The first taste of independence, incessant socializing, and unprecedented stress management required are accelerating the infinite process of self-discovery to an extent I apparently failed to appreciate. Not only is my idealism being challenged –  I’m being forced daily to explore and question the fundamental ways in which I look at the world and at myself.

The first sphere of influence my beliefs and convictions have run up against is that of College social life. In high school, it took me a long time – about 3 and half years to be precise – to stop trying to be someone I wasn’t in order to fit in with whom I perceived as “cool.” I eventually came to the intuitive understanding that it’s impossible to sustain a personality that isn’t naturally your own, so I embraced who I was, became friends with people I was genuinely interested in and who were genuinely interested in me. I ceased my fruitless and futile pursuit of popularity for it’s own sake.

Here at university, I’m finding the whole process is starting over again, albeit with a few more complicating factors thrown in. There is a clear parallel to my early high-school years in that I am drawn towards certain cliques that have been agreed by some unspoken understanding to be comprised of the most popular kids, while my most meaningful relationships already lie outside of those cliques.

Trinity is a small enough school that I see everyone I know every day, and so at meals I alternate between sitting with the “cool” kids, who I like chatting and partying with; and my much more philosophical, cerebral, “nerdy” friends where dinner is always accompanied by a discussion of the value of rationality over intuition, or whether killing babies is inherently bad (it’s not). While I don’t feel compelled to make a cut-and-dry decision as to what clique I belong in (I do, however, believe that depth is inevitably sacrificed in favor of breadth), the experiences with both groups inevitably shed light on my own personality.

On the one hand, the cool kids don’t seem to read into things very much; they are happy to remain in the realm of small-talk and get annoyed when I attempt to analyze or find meaning in what they say; a habit that I have neither managed to shake, nor particularly want to. Of course, this perception is probably flawed since I remain for the most part an outsider observing only the public behaviors of the group. Even it was an accurate perception, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with such superficial interactions, but I do think my habit of incessant over-analysis is here to stay. These guys, however, seem to have a hell of a lot of fun without seeking meaning or explanations. They seem to intuitively know what is good, what makes them happy.

On the other hand, the Philosopher Kings spend their days trying to understand what is “good” and trying to figure out if happiness is even worth pursuing as an end in itself over, say, knowledge. I actually quite enjoy thinking about these things, but this is where things get even more complicated. The one course I have really enjoyed and found genuinely challenging so far, Buddhism and Cognitive Science, seeks to explain how people find meaning. Most of the theories we have encountered suggest that this is done pre-supposing logic.

Whether you call it intuition or choose to invoke a fancy Greek word like religio, it seems that people ultimately find meaning and happiness without actually thinking about it. This makes sense when you actually try to define what is meaningful, what is good, using pure reason. It’s very hard. In the thousands of years of philosophical history, no one has managed to objectively define these concepts to the point where everyone agrees; what an individual finds meaningful or good (and which is therefore the basis for his behavior and beliefs) remains very much up to the individual to decide in some pre-logical, subjective way.

Still, the cynic in me continues to distrust that which cannot be explained logically, and so these questions remain unanswered in my mind. It’s a tug-of-war between logic and intuition, with no clear winner in sight. Juggling this existential angst while struggling through the incredibly annoying process of memorization and regurgitation known as mid-terms, I’m surprisingly glad to be going home in 2 weeks for some much-needed relaxation.

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