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Unasked-for advice

| Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Around this time in Observer columns, you find a lot of seniors giving advice to underclassmen about how to maximize their time here. Typical advice follows along the lines of “your work matters,” “stay focused on school,” “involve yourself on campus” and the almighty, “you get out of ND what you put into ND.” All good advice, but admittedly very biased advice by panicking seniors trying to figure out what they will be doing “next year,” and therefore giving advice about how to find jobs. Screw that stuff.

You see, the preceding pieces of advice — pieces based on trying to find a job — are not bad advice. They are actually very honest and vulnerable pieces advice. At the center of it –– and of all advice for that matter — is fear and caring. Fear that someone will do something wrong, and caring desire that they avoid it. The advice-giver wants the advice-receiver to be happy. My problem is that the find-a-job paradigm places the source of our happiness in safety and security. The job is insulation from the slings and arrows of a capricious world and education is the means of raising our fortress. It is a well-meaning paradigm based on fear, seeking to anesthetize us from the world.

I refuse to allow the premise that the world is something to fear. I’m not denying that the world can be a dangerous place, but affirming that we are of the world and any happiness we find is of the world as well. Happiness will never be born out of safety because happiness is born out of relationships and relationships require trust, which is always a form of risk.

This brings me to my advice: risk getting hurt. Risk screwing up. Risk caring about something. Trust the world. College is the perfect time for exploration. Explore. Learn about the world and the people in it. That could mean going abroad or going into South Bend; reading a book or going out — what is essential is that you are constant in your attention. Attention is the essence of exploration, a receptivity to the world that enables us to encounter a constantly renewing world. As students we enter into the world, yes, but we do so by allowing the world to enter into us.

I’m going a little bit beyond college advice now, so seniors, begin to pay attention too. Attention is how we learn, grow and remain alive. We often forget that a person can be dead while still breathing. Their problem is that their minds and hearts have become inert; the world no longer speaks to them and they only exist as bodies in the world. Allow your mind and heart to wander in open attentiveness until you find yourself living less for yourself and more for the world that is impelling your actions and is giving your actions meaning.

I’m already going off the rhetorically grandiose deep-end, so I’m going to go all in, the fact that I’m writing for a student newspaper notwithstanding. Everything I’ve already described — trust, risk, attention — has been a veil to hide the word love. This is what love consists of, however. So, yes, my advice to all of you — my peers — is to love the world. God, that was a painful sentence to write. You can take this incredibly cliché and predictable piece of advice however you want. The only thing I ask is that you don’t throw it away. The cool thing about this advice is it is good for any point in your life. So, if you think I’m being absurdly idealistic (I am), don’t listen to me, but don’t throw away this advice. Instead, pocket it and wait for the time when you are reminded of it.

One last time: don’t fear the world. After all, if God cares for the lilies of the field, what have you to fear? Change your major, or don’t change your major. Leave your homework for tomorrow, or read that book if you really want to. Ask that girl or guy out — there’s not even a converse for that. All that matters is that you are open to the world and that you allow the world to become a part of you, partaking in the vast diversity of the human experience. Only then you will find something worth living for, and that is worth the price of admission.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Annette Magjuka

    Any college student who has not heard it should listen to David Foster Wallace’s wonderful 2005 graduation speech at Kenyon College.