Columns / Discourse / February 17, 2016

Trust in yourself, help others

In the years I’ve spent writing opinion columns for The Knox Student, I’ve learned a few things. By this I don’t mean to say that I am now a most wise and experienced writer, or that I’ve learned all the things there are to learn. But I’ve learned a few of them.

Thing one: There are so many things out there you can write about. There are so many possible ideas you can put to paper. The mind will fart out any old thing and tell you that it’s the most important idea in the universe. In reality, only time will tell you what ideas are important, and even then, what is important will shift over time.

Thing two: You should put some effort into writing what it is that you really, truly believe. And it is a journey to figure out what you actually believe. Sometimes what seems like a firm belief is really the result of the mind struggling with some kind of dilemma, and accepting the best explanation that it can get its hands on.

As better and better explanations become available, you start being able to understand things more and more clearly, and you also learn to relax with the feeling of just not knowing, which is when beliefs become less like crutches and more like walking-sticks.

I’m writing this column because my mind is struggling with a dilemma. It is struggling with the dilemma of how easily we hurt each other, and how much we struggle with depression, abuse, anxiety and loneliness. It is struggling with the dilemma of how nothing in life is steady, but instead everything is constantly changing.

As I struggle with this, I’m realizing — on multiple levels — that I already have the answers. I have the answers to everything I struggle with, but I usually don’t trust myself to provide them. I have the habit of shrinking back and asking someone else to provide them for me. I have the habit of accepting second-rate explanations instead of the real ones.

I’ve written a lot of columns for The Knox Student about social justice movements and politics. Today I’m not writing about #BlackLivesMatter, or the ecological crisis or whether Bernie will win the nomination, because I came back onto campus this winter and was hit in the face with the reality that we are all still very much children. We are all still struggling with fear and isolation. We are all still trying to find some stability and love in our lives.

When flight attendants tell you what to do should the airplane go down, they always tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. The image that they show when they do this — an adult putting on their own mask, then putting on a child’s — makes me feel warm inside. That is what real helping looks like.

Part of the reason I started writing this column was my own effort to address the feeling that no one really understood me or my goals in life. My steady realization over the last few weeks has been that I am really the only person who can do that for me. I am doing something with my life that has never been done before. So are most of us.

It seems like an isolating idea. Strangely though, when you start to accept yourself as the center of your own experience, the whole idea of “you” and “other people” starts to come into question. A lot of our disillusionment comes out of our unfounded faith in who we believe other people to be. But seeing qualities in another person that you admire is an opportunity to see them in yourself.

Breaking through the smokescreen of what you believe about other people gives you the opportunity really to be yourself around others, and really to meet other people where they’re at. This is the kind of community we want in our lives. This is the kind of love we want in our lives. Let’s claim that. Let’s also be political. Let’s grow into our fullest selves.

Leland Wright

Tags:  Adult Independence individualism Knox College Leland Wright Student understanding

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