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Sensitivity: My SAL

So I’ve become aware of something about myself that I believe can be generalized to most people.  Perhaps this goes without saying, but there are some topics, actions, and specific entities to which I am more sensitive than others.  This list of ‘Sensitive Areas,’ which I’ll talk about further down in more detail, is specific to me; however, I believe that most people could compose a list of their own, filled with topics that could be described as ‘hot button’ or ‘dear to the heart.’  While the contents of everyone’s ‘Sensitive Areas List’ (I’ll shorten to SAL from here forward) would vary greatly, the one thing they all have in common is that they’re areas that we as individuals relate to on a personal or emotional level.  In my case, my SAL is composed of things that I care very much about, topics that I’ve researched extensively, or subjects that are related to my core values.

The reason I wanted to talk about this is that knowing the details of someone’s SAL is integral to really knowing a person.  And as you are getting to know a new person, discovering their SAL can be quite an interesting journey.  I don’t mean to imply that every person is rife with ‘danger zones’ that you need to watch out for, but I do think that as you develop a more intimate relationship, it’s important to take the SAL into account when dealing with that individual.  I think this will make more sense once I start discussing my own SAL.

When I started to think about the topics that would make up my SAL, I immediately recognized that there are certain things that would belong in a ‘hyper-sensitive’ subcategory, while others would only fit into a ‘moderately sensitive’ subcategory.  If I am hyper-sensitive to something, that means the issue is integral to how I define myself as a person, and I am likely to take negative comments or actions personally.  If I am only moderately sensitive, this means that I am likely to take special notice of that subject and can have an objective conversation about my knowledge and/or beliefs.

I’ll be curious to know if the way I categorize my personal SAL surprises anyone.  This list may not be inclusive, and as I grow as a person, it is subject to change, but here’s the start.

SAL: Hyper-Sensitive
– Wastefulness/Recycling
– Intrinsic value of the environment
– Tolerance/freedom of all religions or lack thereof

SAL: Sensitive
– GLTB equal rights
– Women’s rights (especially related to health)
– WalMart (Side note: it’s been over 7 years since I’ve set foot inside one)

SAL: Moderately Sensitive
– Proper grammar
– Makeup and superficial beauty (I’ve blogged about this before…)
– Healthy nutritional principles (admittedly, I’m a newly-converted novice)

I could go into some of these topics in more detail, but I don’t think now is the right time.  Suffice it to say that there are specific reasons that each of these items made it onto my list.  For those of you who know me well, the list is probably not that surprising.  But it’s not something anyone can learn about me overnight.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s not something everyone NEEDS to know about me.  I find it difficult to talk about some of these topics rationally, because they are so important to me.  And getting into an argument with a new friend about a topic listed above is a good way to damage the newly formed friendship foundation.

The friends that know me well probably know to tread carefully around some of these topics where I am concerned.  I have a few friends who jokingly refer to WalMart only in euphemisms,  much like Voldemort was introduced to Harry Potter as ‘You Know Who’ by Hagrid.  I have even more friends who make an extra effort to recycle when we are together, which I really appreciate.  That actually brings me to my main point…

Knowing the areas that a person may be sensitive about is not only a key to avoiding arguments and potential hurt feelings, it is also a way to get closer to that individual.  I just mentioned how it warms my heart when someone shows me how they recycle.  I find great comfort knowing that my friends know some of the things I care deeply about, and that they care enough about me to support me in my areas of focus.

I would even go so far as to say that I find it easier to be close with some of my friends who share many of my SAL beliefs.  I have just as many friends with completely different focus, or opposite views on my SAL topics.  That being said, the only way that these friends with opposite beliefs can remain close is if we have a mutual respect for one another’s SALs.  It’s not always easy, but the best things in life never are.  I do appreciate my friends who have vastly different perspectives on life because they have a lot to teach me, and I hope that they appreciate me as well.

So, I would recommend that you take some time to think about the things that are important to your close friends and loved ones, and maybe make an extra effort to let them know you support them.  For new friends, this is part of the friendship journey that can have some ups and downs; but while a SAL-related argument can damage a friendship, a SAL-kindness can form bonds more closely.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.  For now.

Backwards Down the Number Line

You decide what it contains / …how long it goes, but this remains: / the only rule is it begins, “Happy!” Happy, oh my friend.*

So, I begin the this entry with a song title and lyrics.  I’m speaking metaphorically about my life through the words of others.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where I am in my life right now.  In the immediate moment, it’s a Saturday night and I’m sitting at home in front of my computer, which says a lot about me in and of itself.  Expanding a little wider, I’m in the weekend between two weeks of orientation at my new job.  (I’ll be providing direct care to patients at a local children’s hospital!) I’ve also just finished summer classes so I’m on an academic break until late August.  On an even larger scale, I am on the precipice of an almost-three-year-long journey that I plan to complete with the objective of receiving my RN and BSN.  And then, I’ll live happily ever after…or something like that.

Okay, but seriously…that’s what I’m doing, and that’s what I’m planning.  And for the moment, that’s how I’m defining myself.  But what does that say about me?  It says that I’m willing to start all over again on a new career/academic path, even though I already have a BS in Geology.  It says that I’m flexible enough to be able to take this time to dive back into school.  It means that I was insecure about myself when I didn’t have a life plan, and this is helping to restore that security and sense of self.  Why do I feel it’s necessary to define myself by what I’m doing with my career?  That could be a whole separate entry.  This time, though, I want to focus on timing.

Another big thing which people seem to use as part of a definition of themselves is age.  Age represents or accounts for many things, including health, socialization, and stages of life.  For instance, you might be shocked if you met a recent college graduate who was pregnant and found out that she was 15.  You might be slightly less shocked if she turned out to be 35.  But if she were 25, you’d probably think that sounds about right.  That may be a somewhat convoluted example, but I’m trying to illustrate the point that there is a certain socially excepted timing of life events that correlates somewhat with age.  And though many people don’t say it aloud, there are many expectations, stereotypes, and stigmas that are associated with ages and stages from childhood all the way to the twilight years.

Even as I find myself aware of these social expectations, I am just as guilty as the next person for bowing to them.  And I put myself under the highest level of scrutiny.  I justify so many things by saying, “It’s okay, I’m in my 20s.  Now is the time to make mistakes and huge lifestyle changes.”  While that is a great sentiment that I still fully support, it unwittingly implies that other ages in life are NOT the right time for mistakes and lifestyle changes.  And here’s where I scrutinize myself…because I know that I would feel like a failure if I were in the exact same position I am in now, only 10 years older.  And that’ ridiculous. What’s magical about your 20s in terms of making mistakes?  Life is complicated and I think I know enough about it now to safely predict that I’m never going to figure it out.  So why am I putting the pressure on myself to push towards a mistake-free life?  It’s just not possible.

Delving further down the societal rabbit hole, what’s so important about getting married and having kids in your 20s?  I mean, sure, there’s a certain biological component/ticking clock, but if that were the only factor, I think more women would have children in their teens.  I imagine that younger women can recover from pregnancy more easily and have more energy to chase their toddlers.  But yet, there’s no push to get girls in reproductive mode that early in this day and age.  That being said, the pressure to have kids whilst your age begins with the number two is intense and primarily driven by society.  It’s almost too much to handle as social media bombards me with engagements, weddings, and baby showers, whether real** or imagined (for instance, wedding boards on Pinterest of girls who are currently single).

So, having admitted that I only don’t feel like a failure right now because of my age, I worry about how this will impact me in the future.  Will I be okay with myself when I still don’t have life figured out at 35 (or 50, or 83)?  Will I feel like I lost the game of life if I never get married?  Will I continue to define myself by what I do instead of who I am?  Or will I recognize that life is an individual journey that is far from a strictly linear progression, and remain open to changes and opportunities at any age?

I think what it boils down to for me is that I thrive when I am working toward something.  Life up until 23 was about 95% driven by a desire to graduate from college.  During that time, if I failed at everything else, it was okay, because I was still moving towards the end goal.  Then when life took a sudden turn for me just a few months after graduating, I had nothing concrete to drive towards, and I floundered.  Now, I’m back on a path that may or may not be right for me, but it’s the path that I’ve chosen and given considerable thought.  I think the only hang-up I still have is trying to correlate my path with that of my peers and/or societal stereotypes.  And I need to stop doing that.  I’ll close symbolically with a quote from Mean Girls, “Stop trying to make fetch happen.  It’s not going to happen!”

*No idea if I got the punctuation of those lyrics right, but it represents my interpretation of their meaning.

**As a side note, if you are one of my friends who is recently engaged, married, or a new parent, please know that I couldn’t be happier for you and in no way mean to condemn your choice of lifestyle or blame you for bowing to societal pressure.  I have no idea why life led you to where you are right now, but I only hope the timing is right and wonderful and perfect for you.  The timing of these things does not feel right for me right now, for whatever reason.

How dating is like BINGO … And Other Random Thoughts

So, I should definitely be doing homework right now and NOT writing this blog post, but I did do some homework earlier this evening, so I haven’t been totally irresponsible.

I spent this weekend with my step-grandmother who still lives in my hometown.  She lives in a retirement community, which is in fact the same community where my grandparents had been since 1998, so it’s almost like a second home to me.  I couldn’t even possibly count how many meals and events I have attended there over the years.  But it’s always a new experience, and it has changed a lot particularly over the past 3 years as I lost my grandmother (2009), witnessed the re-marriage of my grandfather (also 2009) and then lost my grandfather (2012).  But some things never change, and BINGO is one of those things.

I don’t particularly love BINGO, but I can amuse myself playing it for an hour.  Despite the fact that I had 6 cards to watch (for the low, low price of $2 for the whole evening), I couldn’t help but let my mind drift to BINGO as a metaphor for dating.  It’s not as well thought out as some of my observations are, but I think there are some interesting parallels.

1. The more cards you have, the better your chances at winning.  In the dating game, if you put all your focus on one person, you have less opportunity to find the right match for you.  Certainly it’s important to focus on one person eventually, but I think people get tied down too quickly.  In our parents’ and grandparents’ generation, casual dating was much more common.  I think there should be a revival!

2. If you don’t play, you can’t win.  The two young kids next to me got bored after a few games and lost focus…and then they had no chance of winning!  This goes without saying, but if you don’t date, you have zero chance of finding a girlfriend or boyfriend.  This is a lesson that particularly applies to me; as a person who would like to find a healthy, committed relationship, I really need to start searching for one by dating.

3. Timing is everything.  You could have dozens of cards in the game, but if you’re not the first person to shout BINGO, you won’t win.  You have to be paying attention and staying on top of the game to win the round.  Furthermore, I always see losers in BINGO lamenting that they “only needed one more to win.”  To those people, I remind them that being “close to winning” doesn’t count for anything.  With dating, I think this just speaks to the random chance involved in meeting a compatible partner.  You could be attending the club on different nights, or be recently out of a bad relationship and not ready to date again when the other is available.

4. You have to be playing the right game to win.  If you don’t play BINGO a lot you wouldn’t know this, but in each round, the caller announces the type of BINGO game.  It can range from simple BINGO (5 in any direction), to picture frame (only the edges), to an X or to blackout (all squares covered).  If you think you’re playing simple BINGO, but that round the object is X, your “win” is invalid.  I think this applies to dating in that if you’re seeing someone with the intention of marriage, and your partner is only interested in a casual relationship, then neither of you has really succeeded.  You’re looking for different things, so what you need to do is find a “round” that fits the “BINGO” on your card.

5. A lot depends on luck.  Let’s face it, there’s no real skill in BINGO, other than having a long attention span (unlike the 5- and 7-year-old kids near me).  I mean, I have a few particular strategies, but they do nothing more than make playing easier for me.  The only real thing you can hope for in BINGO is a lucky card relative to the type of game and the order in which the numbers are called.  Now, there is certainly some skill involved in dating, but there is also a big aspect of luck.  You have to be in the right place at the right time, or know the right people, or come across a certain way to meet a compatible partner.  Once you’ve found each other, it takes work to stay together.  But that initial meeting is really up to luck, timing, and putting yourself out there.

And then we switch gears completely.  I am so fed up with the other heterogeneous members of my gender.  I’ve ranted about makeup before, but I’ve come to a few new conspiracy-type conclusions.  First of all, makeup absolutely plays against having a high self-esteem.  If you really felt good about how you looked, why would you need to cover or modify your appearance with makeup?  And the makeup companies absolutely play a role in all of this.  I was witnessing my grandmother’s consultation with the saleswoman at the makeup counter, and she very subtly implied how much my grandmother NEEDED the makeup to IMPROVE her looks.  For goodness sakes, my grandmother is over eighty years old!  Who is she trying to impress?  What is she trying to hide?  I’m pretty sure that when my grandfather married her, he wasn’t fooled by a little bit of powder and rouge.  She looks like and 80-year-old woman whether she wears makeup or not.  I feel certain he loved her with or without makeup!

Also, I can’t help but wonder if there is a physiological effect of wearing makeup.  As far as I know, the products are not very strictly regulated.  Have there even been long-term studies of the effects of makeup?  What is there to stop the makeup companies from embedding their products with hormones or other chemicals that alter your mood or state of mind?  I’m not trying to say that makeup is a drug or changes who you are, but perhaps the chemicals in makeup subtly influence women to buy more of it?  I’m just trying to come up with a possible biological explanation for the dependence so many women have on makeup.  And this logic is not outside the realm of marketing realities like fast food joints.  They absolutely prey on our visual and olfactory senses to convince us to buy more of their products.  When was the last time you walked past a pretzel shop in the mall and didn’t have the urge to buy a snack?  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  I just think makeup companies might be using similar techniques.

I honestly feel free without makeup, in spite of the fact that I am very well aware that my face would look more traditionally beautiful if I wore it.  I know I could cover up my blemishes and hide the shadows under my eyes.  But you know what…that’s not how I really look!  Some people equate makeup to hygiene or part of your outfit, and argue that if I want to go all natural, I should also stop wearing clothes.  But I don’t consider that to be on the same level.  Primarily, clothes offer protection and warmth.  Secondarily, clothes are not clogging my pores or changing my basic physical appearance.  And of course, going without clothes in public is a legal problem…public indecency or exposure.

Finally, as my friend Purcella pointed out, wearing makeup is a nod to gender inequality.  At first glance, this may seem like an overstatement, but bear with me.  Think about all of the heterogeneous couples you know that are married or in serious, long-term relationships.  In how many of them would you classify the woman as being physically more attractive?  In how many of them would you say that both partners are equally attractive?  In how many of them would you classify the man as being more attractive?  In my experience, the vast majority of couples fall into the first two categories; I know very few men who are dating women that are less attractive than themselves.

But how can this be?  Presumably, there are an equal number of attractive vs unattractive members across the sexes.  So how is it that both the attractive and unattractive men are dating only the attractive women?  Is it because the women settle for any man that will have them?  Is it because women do not value physical attractiveness as highly as men?  Is it because men objectify women?  Is it because women feel insecure and hide their real appearance with makeup in order to appeal to men?  I can’t really answer any of these questions, but certainly the cultural expectation is that only the attractive women will get married and be successful.  And in order to ensure their success, women will do almost anything to improve their appearance.

I think makeup is a bad idea for so many reasons.  It wastes time every day for application and removal.  It wastes money.  It is relatively unsanitary (because you’re dipping your hand/brush in a container for weeks or months on end and then rubbing it on your dirty, oily face).  It can dry out your skin, requiring you to buy more products (moisturizer).  And it exposes you to unknown chemicals.  Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it is very capable of absorbing what you put on it.

In case you don’t know me, I’m not some dirty hippie; I was my body and hair daily, and I shave where appropriate.  I just don’t believe in wasting my time, energy, and money on makeup.  And I’m either going to find someone who accepts that about me, or I’ll end up alone.  But I’m not going to change to conform, and I’m not going to pretend I look like something that I’m not.  True beauty is on the inside.

I guess that’s about it for the observations and rants.  Do you think I’m off my rocker, or do you agree with me on the main points?  Let me know!

On the Idea of a Perfect Life

I’m studying evolution* and natural selection right now in my biology class.  As I may have mentioned before, it’s the first time that I’ve studied biology since high school, and it’s in conjunction with pre-nursing curriculum.  As student of geology in undergrad, I am really finding this biology reboot to be interesting!  In particular, the theory of natural selection appeals to my large-scale geologic interests, and ties in with the fossil record and other things with which I am familiar.

However, I also think that I can find a way to apply the idea of natural selection to an individual human life, at least metaphorically.  Natural selection relies on the assumption that different individuals in a population are competing for limited resources, and that those with the best adaptions will survive to reproduce.  They get these adaptions by sexual selection, genetic recombination, and random mutations in their genetic code.  The idea is that we’re ALL different and that some of us are better suited for our environment.  However, natural selection fails when a population has no limitations.  When a population can spread without consequence, and does not need to compete for resources, though all the individuals are slightly different, natural selection does not have a chance to act on those that are most fit.

When populations are unlimited, there exists no external force to form them into the most well-adapted individuals they can be.  Natural selection relies on the weakest individuals not living long enough to reproduce.  When they all live, the weak individuals contribute to the genetic pool in the same percentage as the strong individuals.

Now I’m going to apply this to a human life.  I believe that trials, tribulations, and limitations act on an individual person in a similar way that natural selection acts on a populations.  These challenges and limitations cause us to develop into better, stronger, and smarter people.  The common expression that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger seems quite apt to describe my thought process.

Let’s imagine for a moment what a perfect life might look like.  Here are some things that we might all be able to agree upon: unlimited financial resources; no mandatory work; perfect and loving family and friends; freedom to act and travel as you please; perfect home; perfect neighborhood and community; perfect contentment.  What would you do if you had everything you wanted?  Maybe it might be nice for a little while, and I can’t argue that the idea is appealing because most of us are so far from perfect that it seems unattainable.  However, more important than what you would do, I really wonder this: what would you become?

Without challenges and limitations to push you, would you stop developing?  Without any reason to learn new things about the world, would you remain ignorant?  Without any concern for your community, would you remain complacent?  With a perfect home, would everything get dusty?

You see, even if an individual animal is perfectly adapted to its environment, the environment is always changing, and so the individual has two options: survive or die.  The environment is never going to stop changing, and so even if your life seems perfect, it simply cannot remain that way.  As Maroon 5 wrote in their new single Payphone, “The sun even sets in paradise.”

So, I would urge you to think more kindly upon your limitations and challenges, and consider them a gift rather than a curse.  Everything that hits you gives you a lesson you can apply to your future, and everything that challenges you changes you.  Don’t wish for a perfect life; not only would it be boring, it would also leave you defenseless in the face of change, which is inevitable.

Agree or disagree?  Leave a comment to let me know!

*If you don’t agree with the theory of evolution, you’re probably not going to agree with anything else I’ve written here.  That’s okay!  You’re entitled to your opinion, and I’m entitled to mine.

Reverse Discriminiation

I am seriously frustrated with a certain kind of person.  This person isn’t specifically a person I know, and this thing about them that frustrates me does not make me dislike them entirely.  There is a trait that some people possess in spades which makes them come across as “holier than thou” despite that fact that they are representing various causes that promote peace, equality and/or philanthropy.

What this trait does is frames an argument in such a way that I, as a “privileged” white American, am somehow excluded from the conversation.  I am told that I am not allowed to comment because I don’t understand.  If I do comment, my opinion is invalid because of my race/culture/sexuality and the fact that I have not experienced the same things as the self-righteous party and his/her compatriots.

This really makes me sad because I think that all conversations about controversial issues should be open forums.  Everyone is entitled to share their opinion, despite the fact that it may be less informed than the self-righteous parties.  If some individuals promote ignorance and hate, it does not seem productive to fight their ignorance with hatred and scorn.  Negativity on the part of the cause-promoters against uninformed parties would only serve to reaffirm negative opinions.  Essentially, when a self-righteous person is standing on their soapbox and shutting me down, they are doing more to hurt their cause than help it.  If I were an irrational person, I would translate this negativity to the ideas they are promoting and develop a blanket dislike for their cause.  Because I am rational, I tend to just dislike that individual and their self-righteous traits.

How are we ever going to reach a period of peace and understanding if certain victimized people fight so hard for their cause that they end up becoming the villains?  Whenever I end up wandering into these conversations, I begin as a bystander and end as the target of a metaphorical lynch mob.  And all because I am privileged?  How does this help to bridge the gap they wish to bridge?

If you have ever shut someone down in an argument because you believed they did not have the proper experience to develop an opinion, I urge you to treat them as you would like to be treated.  Treat them with respect.  Share your opinion, but also try to understand their perspective.  Just because they don’t come from the same culture and mindset as yourself doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas.

That’s all I ask.

How To Uncondition Your Canine Companion

In Psychology we have just learned about conditioned responses.  Basically, a neutral stimulus (like your arrival home) has the potential to cause your dog to have a conditioned response (such as peeing or salivating) if you habitually take your dog for a walk or feed her right after you get home.  I am just learning the vocabulary to describe this phenomenon, but I have understood it for years.

Many people report these conditioned responses as bad behavior.  If you regularly feed your dog at a certain time of the day, she will come to expect food at that time, and act out until she is fed.  If you always take her out the moment you wake up in the morning, she will get anxious waiting and might have an accident.  These behaviors are learned, and so they have the potential to be “un-learned.”

Bad behavior: Peeing when owner first returns home

Don’t act excited when you first greet your dog.  Sometimes the pee is just a submissive response to seeing you as the dominate figure arriving home.  It can also be a response to the fact that you always take your dog outside the moment you return home, and the pee in response to your return is a conditioned response.  You might try ignoring your dog for just the first 5 minutes and THEN take her out.  Then build up to longer times.  If she does not expect to go out the moment you return, the automatic peeing should cease.  The only exception to this is if your dog genuinely NEEDS to pee, which should only be the case if she has been alone too long.  As a general rule of thumb, an adult dog should be able to “hold it” at least 6-8 hours with no issues.  My dog is 5, and she can easily make it through the night (8-9 hours), and she has on many occasions waited 10-12 hours without having an accident.  Much older dogs lose some bladder control, so the “comfortable” window will be different for every dog.  But if you are returning within the window, just let your dog wait it out a few extra minutes to “un-learn” the behavior.

Bad behavior: Begging for food at certain times of the day.

I have friends who keep their dogs on an elaborate feeding schedule.  For example, Jack-the-dog gets breakfast in the morning, a bone at lunch time, dinner at 5pm, and a treat in the evening.  That’s a lot for his owner to manage every day.  And when I see him at the park, he is anxious to go home and get his dinner.  In contrast, my dog gets breakfast whenever I wake up in the morning (it varies), and that’s about it.  She doesn’t always eat all the food in the morning, but generally within 24 hours, it’s all gone.  Basically, she eats when she’s hungry, not on a specific schedule.  This means that there are never times of the day when she is in the kitchen begging for her treat.  I give her treats at random times (not even once per day), so that she never learns to expect them.

The lesson here is that it’s very easy to condition dogs to have “bad behaviors” like begging or peeing indoors.  But it’s also easy to change your behavior towards your dog so that they no longer act that way.  Give your dog lots of love, but stay away from routines that promote neuroses and your and your dog will BOTH be happier.

The “Does Not Care” Gene

Admittedly genetics probably has very little to do with attitude, but I wanted a provocative title for this interesting thought experiment on which I’m about to embark.

What is it about the majority of young people that makes them care very little about formal education?  I still consider myself a young person, so I am speaking about my generational peers, though I am older than most of them.  I am defining ‘formal education’ as classroom instruction in basic topics like biology.  I’d like to look at a few possible factors that may explain the high level of apathy I have observed in students.

Of course, I am going to start by generalizing, with the caveat that not all students are apathetic.  However, from what I have observed in my community college courses, and what my high-school-teacher friends tell me on a regular basis, the overwhelming majority of students demonstrate very little effort or concern in the realm of of academics.  There may be several reasons why this is happening, and it may be completely different for different individuals, but this trend is widespread enough to warrant exploration.

Let me start on the opposite spectrum, with a personal anecdote.  I excelled academically in high school, and then transitioned immediately into a high-caliber college.  As a result, I was regularly surrounded by like-minded students who also sought to achieve their full potential.  It never occurred to me to toss education aside like it didn’t matter, which I realize places me very much in the minority.  It was only as I returned to school (for a career change) that I realized how the “typical” student acts in an academic setting.

First and foremost, most students do not understand academic concepts right away.  From what I have seen, there are two main responses to this lack of understanding; the student either brushes off the knowledge as irrelevant and moves on, or the student becomes frustrated at his lack of understanding and gets overwhelmed.  The number of times I’ve heard a student mutter, “When am I ever going to use this?” really makes me wonder about the disconnect between formal education and real world experiences.  But I’ll get back to that.

What I don’t see typical students do is approach complicated concepts from a “can-do” perspective.  I don’t see them study the material until they understand.  I don’t see those students ask the instructor to explain the concept in a different way.  I don’t see them try to approach the material from an alternative perspective in order to gain a new level of understanding.  The concepts within formal education may not be directly applicable to every day life, but the practice of LEARNING is really the main goal.  And how are you, as a member of your community, going to approach real-world problems if you don’t know how to think, research, and learn new things?  In real life, there is no instructor to clarify a difficult concept; as a student of life, you must rely on your own knowledge base, your peers, the opinion of paid professionals (who probably excelled in school), or your ability to reason and research.  You can expand your knowledge and your skill set by working diligently in a formal education setting.

Why don’t typical students feel empowered to learn?  If they feel inept in a certain subject, why do they respond by thinking of that as an insurmountable barrier to their progress in that subject.  Some students are positive that they are bad a math.  Well, you know what, I am bad at playing the trombone, but if I practiced diligently, I would certainly improve.  No one is born with inherent math skills, but some are exposed to math from a young age.  The biggest concession I will make to struggling students is that they could be “behind” in subjects like math, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of gaining the knowledge they need to succeed.  But how do you motivate students to work towards self-improvement in formal education settings?

I think what students these days lack is an understand that all knowledge has value, and all knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions in life.  Not only that, but education has a unifying value across all disciplines of teaching you how to learn.  My mother instilled in me the understanding that a 4-year post secondary “liberal arts education” was the most valuable thing I could do, because it would make me a well-rounded person who knew how to think.  Now that I am back in school specifically for Nursing, I realize just how right she was.  Unlike many of my classmates, I am absorbing the knowledge presented, making connections to reality, and actually enjoying the experience.  But even when I was learning more abstract things during my 4-year college experience, I still found ways to be engaged.

There are certainly social factors that influence a student’s lack of concern about formal education.  Doing well in school is not the “cool” thing to do, nor is it always the most fun.  As an example, I have already been teased by my community college classmates for being “too smart” in class.  But I really don’t think it’s my level of knowledge or intelligence that intimidates them; it’s my high level of engagement in class that truly sets me apart.

While my peers do not lack the basic knowledge or cognitive ability to do well in class, the certainly do lack the motivation to excel.  Do they not understand that hard work in school can pay off?  Not only can it lead to a lucrative career, but it also leads to a more informed life.  Who looks around one day and decides, “I would rather earn less money, have a harder life, and know as little as possible about the world around me?”  I’m not trying to say that the final grade in any one formal education class will dictate a student’s future success, but the general level of apathy that most students demonstrate will certainly lead to a life that is below that student’s potential.

I just think it’s so important to expose yourself to new concepts with an open mind; whether that means new music, new political ideologies, or new concepts in biology, what is the harm in learning more?  You may be learning more than you think you need to know, and you may forget some of what you’ve learned over time, but all knowledge builds on itself.  And how do you know what might be beneficial to you in the future?  (Hint: You don’t know what the future holds, so it is helpful to prepare yourself as fully as possible with a wide base of knowledge from a formal education.)

If you wish to be an active member of society, it is important to be educated about the world, and because the world is always changing, it is important to learn HOW TO LEARN.  Every formal education class that I have ever had from English Literature to US History to Biology has taught me a little bit more about the world, helped me make connections across disciplines, and most importantly, has taught me about the many different avenues I can employ to continue my education for the rest of my life.

Most people only spend the first 20 years of their lives in formal education, and that’s supposed to last for a lifetime of 70-90 years!  Every student should be making the most of that time so that their formal education can contribute to their success as an adult.