Some things are True

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mindless groupthink is destructive; strictly individualized mindfulness is not constructive.

Don’t worry (or get excited). That is not the topic of this speech. That was the first line of the only cover letter I sent out for a job this past year. Mind you, the cover letter had a thought-provoking prompt. Nonetheless, you can probably imagine, I did not get the job. But why would you imagine that? Ah, the real world. That’s happening now. Suddenly, random but perhaps thought-provoking sentiments are no longer just an interesting prod at our general consciousness. I hear that’s not what most employers are looking for.

I didn’t even get an interview — and that’s the main reason I applied. I was doing it for fun because an acquaintance of mine told me the interviewing process involved 22 interviews and I really love conversations with strangers. 22 interviews? That’s like an average amount of conversations I have in a week at Brown except the difference is I might end up getting paid for this. I joke about it now, but at the time, it wasn’t really a joke. I knew that sharply strong perspective might not be the most desirable attribute for an entry-level job, but they were asking me a question and I wanted to be open and honest–this is how I can convey my passion. If this is not what they want, then I am not what they want. And that is ok. Not to mention, the conversations might not be so fun if they were looking for a watered down version of me.

I would not be this confident about rejection if it weren’t for the nature of this liberation —

I mean, Brown.

It hit me in the middle of finals period this past fall that it really happened: I really did build my education, and it really, truly has liberated me. How quaint — this is real life too: there exists a space where I can be unapologetic about who I am and what my bliss is. We can fall deeply in critical love with what we are learning, and/or we can fall in love with chasing our goals and seeking and utilizing the resources that surround us. And utilizing resources can mean any number of things, whether that’s finding the perfect nook to study, looking for a mentor, or finding funding to travel to our motherland. Regardless of the amount of pain or pleasure, we’ve had the privilege of experiencing this for four years.

We’ve gained so much. But specifically, Brown has had a special impact on my vocabulary. And no, I don’t mean in the way I now say hegemony and talk about military-industrial complex like it’s my job. If I were to choose two words whose meanings have really transformed for me or has seeped into the way I view the world, the two would be bliss and community.

Bliss and community are what shape this experience. When I first came to Brown, I thought it was a bit gimmicky when I heard about community-building. I also never thought of the idea of bliss or pursuing it.

Community is what we have when we come together, connect, and listen to each other; bliss is what we follow when we truly listen to ourselves. The two must co-exist. Community happens when we become aware of those who surround us, when we practice respect and compassion for our environment. And bliss is allowing ourselves to see possibility.

We help build the communities we grow with, so I owe my development to the poets in my workshop, the computer scientists that helped me with the most basic of programming, the political scientists that challenged my view of economic growth and political regimes, and I owe it to Brown for fostering the spaces for this outward interaction and inward reflection.

I remember one late night sitting in the kitchen of my dorm in my Freshman year looking at my stack of books and wondering how I could finish my paper come morning. When I started thinking about what I needed in order to get the grade, I immediately stopped and told myself that this cannot be what this place is about. I committed to growing out of this limited mentality. My thinking shifted gradually from grades to full expression. To some degree, I grew out of self-limitation.

Some things are true to you; this doesn’t change. What does change is whether or not you are in a place that embraces your right to embrace yourself. I cannot apologize for who I am now, because I cannot ask you to apologize for who you are. I can only keep growing and learning how to grow. At Brown you perform poorly when you have chosen not to poke at your potential to grow. Of course, there are exceptions. But what is not an exception, but a norm, is to find a professor who cares much more about the fact that you are learning and pushing your potential than producing a product that fits into their grading rubric. These professors and friends trust. They trust that if you are truly challenging yourself within your limitless potential, both your process and your product are invaluable. It’s our job to better understand the base of our motivation. That is Possibility.

So I lied. This is all related to that statement that opened my cover letter. It’s just that Brown has equipped me with not just the words, but the experience that lets me see the possibility of groups and individuals — we can mindfully think as individuals of a group.

This isn’t a matter of simply celebrating the glory of this place so we can cry harder because we’ve reached the end. The most valuable lessons and the magic of this place is something we can carry with us forever after today. It’s not a matter of how much we took advantage of our time here or how many brilliant minds we were able to pick at to absorb some of their wonder; it is the reality that we carved ourselves homes within an environment of Possibility. We built communities by virtue of sitting in study rooms at the scili and taking a moment or two to breathe, to laugh, or to challenge each other’s conceptions of wealth, power, love, and sexuality. We grew with Possibility and began to understand what our bliss might be, and now have the option to follow it.