Week 9: Recess
Thursday 3/10/16 — Class
We started todays class by discussing our visits to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and some class reactions to it. Everyone seemed to enjoy their visit, and like how he is portrayed, though everyone had their own opinion on whether it portrayed him as a political or a spiritual leader. We were then asked to consider whether we believed the monument and his ideologies were stoic, which confused me because I still don’t have a very good understanding of what stoicism is. We particularly looked at one of the inscriptions on the wall: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” To me, this was not very stoic, because it shows that he is leaning towards the idea that justice will come in the end, and he is looking forward to it. In my understanding of it, whether things end up just or not, they would not care because they know that they cannot control it. MLK definitely was hopeful that the world would end up being a moral place, and I don’t think that a stoic would have any care about whether it was moral or not.
Luckily, after this, we went into a lesson on stoicism to try to clarify some things for the class. While I was listening and very attentive, I have to say I still don’t have a strong grasp of what stoicism really is. I know that they have self control because they don’t see use in the intense emotions that are a reaction to the things that they can’t control, but their thoughts about life and the universe are where I get confused. All I know is that they do everything according to nature. In my head, they are kind of detached from life, letting it happen around them. But now that I know that they are into actions and not word, I am more confused. Exactly how engaged with the world around them are they? I guess you can have a relation with the world around you and still not be controlled by your emotions, but I am not sure how engaged you can be. Though, considering Marcus Aurelius was a stoic who ruled and lived a full life while being a stoic, I think I find trouble when I try to connect their way of life to their idealogies. The “everything happens for a reason” idea makes sense, but the “carpe diem” idea doesn’t really go hand in hand with it. Maybe I am thinking about the actual definition of stoic as a modern word, and that is stopping me from really understanding the ancient philosophy. I’m just really hoping I get a solid understanding of it before our next exam. I’ll probably look into some outside sources, since as of now my only understanding of it is through texts that I enjoyed, but am not that comfortable with yet.
Part of the problem could be that towards the end of class, music started blasting from the yard and immediately took my attention from the class. I understand that people were just trying to enjoy the weather, and I would be all for it in any other instance, but 1) I really like this class, and 2) I realy need to understand the topic that we were discussing. I was pretty frustrated with the music, because I know that it contributed to my confusion. It definitely made it feel like springtime, because I’m use to people congregating on the yard, but it’s still midterm season, and I would have appreciated it if people had respected that.
Monday 3/14/16 — Reading
I looooooved William Deresiewicz’ lecture Solitude and Leadership. Not only was a it a necessary read, but it put a lot of things into perspective that I usually don’t think about. He talked about the importance of solitude, and in any other context, I probably wouldn’t have understood the point that he was trying to make especially in the setting of West Point, but he addressed any confusion that he was probably met with from the audience, and tackled those issues.
For one, he talked about he comes across students who are being trained to be leaders, but their leadership includes them being able to jump through hoops to become the elite with impressive titles and accomplishments. However, that is not true leadership, but more of being distinguished. Understanding that leadership does not mean just carrying on the status quo, but instead challenging it in order to keep up with what is being demanded of you, is really leadership. I particularly enjoyed when he expressed that we have a shortage of thinkers in the leaders that we have been trying to cultivate.
We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of expertise. What we don’t have are leaders.
His next points were about thinking, concentration, and solitude. He did a great job of clarifying what he meant, not using any flowery language to try to make it some type of deep though that needed to be worked over to understand “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.” It seems like, because of his audience, this is what he really wanted the takeaway from his lecture to be since thinking for yourself is the first step in becoming a good leader according to Deresiewicz.
I also like that he talked about the challenges he has in thinking for himself. He said that the first thought he has is rarely his own, and it takes a lot of time concentrating on one thing to come up with a thought that is exclusively his own, and even then they are not always his best thoughts and ideas. It reminds me of something I’ve read before (which I can’t locate right now), but a woman was writing about her experiences trying to refrain from being offensive or prejudiced. It was something along the lines of the idea that your first thought is what you have been conditioned to think, and your second thought is what you actually think about someone or something. While the poing being made by Deresiewicz is less dramatic and more meditative, both of these remind me to not be so consumed by my first thought, instead really considering things for some time to really come to understand what I think about something. He also made some points about writers, which I feel like were beneficial for me personally as I try to develop into a skilled writer.
I like that he explained that solitude is about finding yourself. I know that when I think of it, I consider solitude to be sitting by yourself in a dark room or something, but he removed some of the mystery from the idea. He also said that you can find solitude in intimate friendship, which was perfect idea to me because just the night before a friend and I had stayed up until 6am just talking about the things that we never talked about with anyone else. It really helped clarify things for both of us, since keeping thoughts in my head are a surefire way for me to be confused and overwhelmed. I also liked that he considered reading books, and forming your own opinions and responses to what you read as solitude, because that is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve also never considered how much thought goes into the books that I read, so my solitude will be the result of someone else’s solitude. Call me a romantic, but I find something very beautiful in the cycle of solitude that books represent and create.
I like that his final point that leadership is having the courage to do the things that you have thought about in solitude. As a leader, you need to be able to depend on your solitude in the heat of the moment, as only you will have the power to make those tough decisions that leaders in any instance will face. When he says “Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff,” it is clear that those new directions are found in your solitude.
Thursday 3/22/16 — Class
Today’s class was fairly relaxed, as we spent most of the class going over the exam. It was kind of unexpected, as we were bringing up some topics that we haven’t discussed in a few weeks, but I enjoyed it because we were talking about psychopathy and the problems of leadership, which were two topics I really had been interested in. I like having this class because it was pretty much my first formal class since spring break, so I appreciated that we were being eased back into the learning and not just thrown back into deep discussion.
Roll call was really interesting, because the questions of leadership were applied to people spring break experiences. Everyone talked about Alternative Spring Break, which made me think about my experience doing ASB in Memphis my freshman year. Everyone that spoke talked about how life changing it was, which is a familiar feeling. We also talked about what we would demand in order to do the work that we want to do, which was differnt. Usually, when people talk about doing work that will benefit the community or that will be fulfilling, people only talk about being selfless. However, it is definitely necessary to recognize that the work you do is worth something, and you still need to live a fulfilling life outside of your work. It was a very realistic take on a naive idea that is often talked about, because we have to know what we are willing to sacrifice. I found myself thinking about Life’s 5 Great Stories. In the beginning of the semester we had to write about how we see them relating to each other, and this little bit of wisdom we were receiving during attendance reminded me to revisit that.
Wednesday 3/23/16 — Studying
I plan to do the bulk of my studying this weekend, so all I did in the last day was go back and review the notes we’ve taken since our last exam. I know that our readings include the two accounts of Socrates’ Apology, and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.The reading is pretty substantial, so I plan on revisiting them this weekend. I just did a brief reading of my notes, and came across some things that I had forgotten about. This was the beginning of our focus on nontraditional and philosophical leadership, which is found in both of the leaders we read about. I refamiliarized myself with the charges against Socrates, and the differences in how he was portrayed by Xenophon and Plato, as well as his relationship with Alcibiades. I don’t have many notes on Marcus Aurelius, so I need to reread my journals to see what was discussed. I have everything that I think I need to study in mind, so now I just need to spend the weekend actually studying it.
3. I have a lot of challenge when it comes to thinking for myself, because it is a practice that I am not necessarily used to. The first ones that come to mind are doubting my own thoughts, overthinking, readily accepting ideas from others that I look up to, being too distracted to come up with my own ideas, and being afraid that my own thoughts are not original.
Blogging - Throughout
This week’s blogging was very necessary, because after such a long time away from the material I haven’t been thinking about it much. Blogging allowed me to really concentrate on the material, as Deresiewicz would say. My favorite thing this week was Solitude and Leadership, because it is something I feel like I needed to read. It made leadership seem like a less daunting task. I rarely read about the develpment of a leader, I just see the leader already in a position of power. When he explained that the first step in becoming a leader is just being able to think for yourself, it made becoming a leader seem like more of a possibility.
Blogging this week was also helpful because it helped me to identify what I do and don’t understand. It is obvious now that I need to familiarize myself with stoicism so that I can try to master it before the exam. After reading Deresiewicz, I’ve realized that blogging every week is one of the only opportunities I have for solitude, so I new have a(n even) bigger appreciation for it.