When I entered someone’s place and noticed that they have a bookshelf of books, I am instantly attracted to this person because we already have a commonality: books. Hopefully, he/she loves to read books as much as I do. However, when a business establishment has a bookshelf with books, I am more impressed and fascinated. I thought that I was going in early yesterday afternoon for a $19.99 oil change. What I came out with is a reminder of who I am.
Anytime I found out that you have a bookshelf I am going to want to know you or something about you. I want to know what you are interested in reading. I want to know a bit about yourself. Because it is the book connection. So, not only did I find out that I was truly getting a $19.99 oil change (it was just a $21.32 oil change without any other “surprises” tacked on), I found out that the shop owner (also a mechanic) was a philosopher and a Libertarian. As we discussed what kind of philosophy he believes in, Ayn Rand’s objectivisim, and what his view on politics were, what really intrigued me and has plagued me for the rest of the day is a story about his daughter. I mentioned that my fiance’s father taught philosophy at the university for 30 years in philosophy and education. However, JH was not interested in philosophy. The shop owner shared that he talked to his son about Objectivism; his son understood it but had no interest but his daughter did. His daughter, taking her father’s philosophical lessons, decided that she wanted to come up with even a better philosophy than Objectvism. She decided to go to college. As any proud father would be, she blows the department away with her essays/writers on Nietzsche.
Yet, he told me that she was frustrated about what happened to her this semester. Basically, one of her professors was discussing socialism. Well, the shop owner’s daughter, after listening to the professor presenting his ideas on socialism, told him that there were contradictions in this concept. All her peers laughed at her while her professor did not back her up or support her thinking in why socialism has these contradictions. When the shop owner told me this, my heart fell. I know. I know. I know what you are going to say. Sophia, you know the game. You know the rules of the game. And some of you may be scratching your head, thinking, “What rules are you talking about, Sophia? The game is called: follow the leader. Don’t ask questions. Follow directions. Don’t ask questions. Follow laws: Don’t ask questions. Follow the rules: Don’t ask questions. Even then, some of us have been encouraged to ask questions in certain settings or spaces–one, in particular, the collegiate environment. Even then, students should not ask too many questions.
Each of us are different. We are unique. We are one-of-a-kind. Each one of us marched to a different beat when the drum sticks are rapping a rhythm on the drum. We all come from different ethnic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, different regions of our states, different countries, different regions of those countries, different community experiences, different family experiences, etc. Because of all that and our personalities, we have to internalize and decide who we are going to be and how are going to live our lives. Some of us come from a decade or even an era of culture where we should not have questioned authority at all. We should strictly follow the rules because then we won’t encounter many problems. Some of us come from an era where we can ask questions, but they better not be the wrong or inappropriate questions. And some of us come from an era where we think we can ask all kind of questions because we are free to do so. BUT, it isn’t true. It’s not true because the case of the shop owner’s daughter.
A collegiate institution is a supposed to be a symbol for freedom for students to ask questions and investigate subject matters so they can think for themselves. In case of the shop owner’s daughter, she was pulled in by the Department Chair of Philosophy and told not to philosophize. He told her that she should do what the professor instructs and get her grade. And yes, all of us who have attended some higher educational institution have been to keep our mouths shut when we have crossed the line and not question what authority (teachers/professors) are doing…and receive ours grades and go about our business. What a huge contradiction we live in then. This country was founded on the principles that we all have the liberties and rights to think how we please and what we believe in. We have the right to question theories and ideas so we can all have free will to choose what we want to believe in. In reality, contradiction plays a big role when we are at a space where that space is supposed to represent a certain idea, but it does not. Typically, it is usually the individuals in that space or place who are the ones who are the authority on what we should say, promote, or believe.
I know. I know. You are going to say, Sophia, you know the game. You know that there are certain situations or certain places that you cannot ask questions, ask certain questions, or ask too many questions. You know this…and if you want to become successful in this world and stay out of trouble, you must comply to the rules of this game. Yes, I do know how the game is played. However, those who have played this game, are they truly happy? All of them? Is playing the game worth compromising who you are or the potential for you to freely decide who you want to become? Are the “material rewards” that worth it if one has to sell one’s soul to the Devil ? Is it that important for you to follow the rules strictly and be granted certain incentives but denying yourself of values that can sustain you throughout your life?
I feel for the nineteen year old shop owner’s daughter because she is getting her first real lesson of the game and the players. Because she “hated” on the game, the players “hated” on her. I basically told him that they had all ganged up on her and was beating her down with their ideologies. As someone who used to be that nineteen year old who believed in all the possibilities of changing the world and thinking that you can get others’ to empathize, well, in the process, you lose a bit of that innocence. People are driven by wanting to be like other people. The majority of us want to fit in. The majority of us don’t want to be left behind. The potential problem with this is that, how much are you willing to sacrifice to “fit in?” The shop owner talked about when someone lies, they are at war with themselves. I have never thought about lying in that way, but it is profoundly true. When you start buying into certain beliefs and not questioning and understanding why you are sold on those beliefs, you are warring with yourself. You are sacrificing your understanding and free will to understand and decide completely if you can live with these choices. You are operating on “bad faith” as Jean Paul Sartre explains in his Being in Nothingness. Bad faith is when a person decides to go into a situation knowing that they don’t know all about the situation, or they think they know all, but they aren’t questioning and understanding it to the fullest.
Isn’t this asking too many questions or not asking appropriate questions bad faith? If you are an individual in authority and tell someone you cannot ask questions or philosophize because you are disrespecting or rebelling against authority, then you are promoting someone to easily adapt to beliefs that may not fully enrich his/her life. You are encouraging that individual to take it on “faith” that this professor…what he is saying is better or valid than some other idea that you may believe was more fitting to your thinking…and you weren’t expose to because you took on faith what your professor was saying was authority because your professor is authority.
I think that learning begins when an individual asks questions about everything. Eventually, it leads you to ask questions about yourself. Who are you really? What do you believe? How do you think? What are you good at? What burdens you? What makes you fall short? How do you want to live your life? What kind of lessons, beliefs, or ideas you want to learn? I think that it is profoundly sad when you have a collegiate institution sending a message that our institutions are here to help cultivate your independent thinking. On the other hand, the individuals in that collegiate environment are backhanding the symbol’s message and undermining students by sending the message that in certain spaces, students cannot ask questions or think for themselves. When that happens, well, you are putting people in a state of crisis. Yes, the person can “accept” what the authority figure says and continue following what that figure says. Or you can form your own ideas and understandings about who you are and the world you live in.
Sophia Muriel Flemming