David Brooks recently wrote an article for the New York Times called “The Moral Bucket List.” In it, he describes coming across people who “see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.” He concludes, “those are the people we want to be.” But how do we do this? As Amherst students, we are always trying to push the envelope of experience, but we often forget to make time to find our passions and our voice.
With many possible extracurricular activities and a regularly scheduled day, it is often difficult to read for leisure or find time to reflect appropriately on one’s thoughts and daily events. Nevertheless, Amherst is one of the better places to find oneself, simply because of the sheer diversity of culture here. In fact, the open curriculum is one of the best ways to delve into unknown realms — or ones one is intrigued to explore. This semester, I took a course called History of the Modern Middle East, and it has significantly brought me closer to my Arab culture, particularly after I had to write a paper about Gamal Abdel Nasser, the second president of Egypt; I came to ponder what it means to be an Arab. So far, the course has helped me formulate a voice about Arab concerns and made me feel more rooted than ever. Despite having a heavy course load, we sometimes end up choosing one particular course that we unequivocally learn from and enjoy. In a campus with a constant influx of worthy ideas, some ideas and readings captivate us more than others, and it’s worth paying attention to what catches your interest amidst all the noise.
On another note, on Saturday I went to TEDxAmherst, a rather stimulating conference. Russell D. Weatherspoon’s talk captured me: He talked about unselfish love. As this year passes, I find myself thinking about romantic love differently. I had always thought that an emotional connection between two people was enough to sustain a flame, a notion I attained as an Egyptian. In Egypt, physicality does not have such an important role in determining relationships, for one must be able to connect on a mental level before anything else. Whenever I think of romantic love in the United States, I recall movies like “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Pretty Woman” or “Stuck in Love.” I thought that love nearly instantaneously happens — but now, after interactions with many others, I know that I was wrong, as physicality transmits certain ineffable emotions and falling in love takes time. Amherst challenges our preconceived notions about all kinds of things, either by changing them or confirming them. These kind of experiences are also essential to becoming what Brooks describes as “an incandescent soul.”
Needless to say, not everyone has discovered a passion or a voice — some are still seeking the truth, and the key to doing so is to ask better questions. To begin with, instead of comparing ourselves to others, we should seek to be better than who we used to be. After acknowledging our weaknesses, we may embark on the mission of self-defeat — defeating our weaknesses, that is.
“Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions,” Brooks says. “They ask, what is life asking as me?” But even now, as Amherst students, we can already begin answering this question In the process of looking for your voice, you will finally be able to conceptualize what life is asking of you.