Remembering to look beyond the stress

By Miriam Larson

Al riesgo de parecer rid¡culo el revolucionario está animado por gran sentimientos de amor. (At the risk of seeming ridiculous, the revolutionary is motivated by great sentiments of love!)

-Che Guevara

On Sunday I sewed together the thick, spongy rind of an oversized grapefruit (that I have learned is called a pomelo) into an intensely fragrant mobile that I hung from a pipe on my ceiling. As I pushed my needle through the foamy fruit-skin I laughed to my mother on the phone about the ridiculousness of it and she laughed in return. I need that ridiculousness in these last weeks of school to put the loads of work in perspective, because I am not here to bust my butt for A’s or to come up with groundbreaking new theory or to be a revolutionary student activist. I am here because of my family, friends and community who laugh, encourage, inspire and potentially benefit from the contributions I’m learning to give to this world.

Unfortunately, Che’s “great sentiments of love” are frantically getting buried, neglected or forgotten among piles of “should’s,” objectivity, and urgency. At Macalester, where so many informed arguments are made because people believe in the changes they suggest, love gets buried under the “should’s” that theory produces. For example, I am writing a paper about the prison-industrial complex that communicates my belief that prisons in their current state are not just and therefore should be changed. But it is not the “should” that I hope to take away from this paper, it is the understanding that the U.S. American prison system is not strengthening communities and is not caring for troubled people. Perhaps I also expand my tolerance of prisoners who I believe are not justly treated by the criminal justice system.

But although my arguments can engage the world’s problems, I do not believe tolerance can be learned in books and therefore academic theory is useful only as one tool among many to change the world. This is particularly true in light of academia’s thirst for objectivity, which cuts emotional ties in order to impart unbiased truth. I would go as far as to say that reason is used to explain the world in a demonstration of control. I certainly use it in this way; the world is confusing and overwhelming and if I can theorize it into writing or bullet points it seems more manageable. But sometimes I get so many bullet points or so many theories that I stumble over my words and when my aunts and uncles ask over Easter dinner what I think about volunteering for the Peace Corps, it is difficult to offer my opinion of volunteerism (which I shared in an earlier column) in plain language.

Another danger of theorizing the world’s problems from an objective perspective is that objective reason is cynicism’s sister. When we look down on the world from the ivory tower, we are able to indulge in cynicism because it protects us from, and makes us aloof of, the need to care. Unfortunately, many people cannot afford cynicism. For example, a hungry mother cannot afford cynicism because society has taught her she can be aloof to nobody but instead pushes her down where she must still hold her head up so her children can see that there is hope enough to grow up.

And I think having enough hope to grow up is a big challenge for all of us, though we try to pretend it’s not. I see people scrambling for hope on this campus in the urgency and frequency with which events are scheduled. It doesn’t help that this campus is chalk-full of leaders watching as the world gets smaller under our computer keyboards. But we are unable to take the time to make ourselves accountable to each other. Activists scorn economists who look down on social theorists who dismiss musicians. And these leaders who are learning how to grow up forget why they have come here to learn. It is time that this generation remember its motivation for our revolution.

Miriam Larson ’08 is a columnist for The Mac Weekly Opinion Section. Contact her at [email protected]