September 4, 2012

Lessons Learned From the Liberal Arts

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Many of my friends and classmates enrolled in technical, career-skills based colleges have told me that they look forward to my serving them coffee in the near future. My only crime for this jesting condemnation is that I am enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences and am attempting to pursue intellectualism rather than pre-professionalism. Yes, freshmen, doubtless you have already heard upperclassmen calling Arts and Sciences “Arts and Crafts.” When they use that designation, they refer to me and to what I am studying.

Although my “practical” comrades use the term with some level of scorn, I actually like the expression “Arts and Crafts” because I think that it embodies the pursuit of intellectualism that is inherent in a liberal arts education. I have had the excellent opportunity of not being tied down by major restrictions (just yet) and have been able to take classes in humanities and other fields that tickle my interest. An unintended consequence (I learned about unintended consequences in ECON 1110: Introduction to Microeconomics) of “exploring my interests” (an expression used by those who are undecided) is that I have actually learned “practical” lessons from my classes. What follows are a few lessons that I have learned from my first year of a liberal arts education.

1. ASIAN 1114 FWS: Buddhist Meditation Masters

I am sure that your first response upon seeing that I learned something practical in a class about Buddhist Meditation Masters — let alone one that was a first year writing seminar — is one of sheer and utter disbelief. This class has actually had a profound effect on how I manage stress and time. The class itself was not much of a time commitment but learning about Buddhist monks and other figures in the canon of Buddhism was hugely influential on how I handle stressors in my own life. Furthermore, we practiced different forms of meditation. And I have a strong feeling that at some point in my life it will be useful to know the difference between samatha and vipassana meditation. Finally, I took the class my Freshman fall, a time when many students are overwhelmed by the increased level of difficulty of college work as compared to high school (do not worry, freshmen, you will be fine). Taking a class where we learned about monks who would cut themselves out of the world in order to achieve inner peace made me think about ways to achieve a similar peace in my own life.

2. GOVT 1615 Intro to Political Philosophy

There are actually quite a few pieces of practical knowledge to be mined from famous political theorists. The class covers the works of philosophers ranging from those of Niccolò Machiavelli to those of Karl Marx, and everything in between. One particular concept that I considered “practical” was Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of alienation and how it affects the development of the human race. In short, the concept explains that contemporary man lives “outside of himself,” that the perception that other people have of us affects us deeply. This movement to an outside conception of self has also given rise to decorum, politeness and, ultimately, a liberal strand of political thought.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I shun decorum and politeness (just kidding, mom) but it was very interesting to think about the beginning of these twin constructs. Also, once we have recognized that, as a part of human nature, we do care about how people see us, we can express ourselves in ways that we could not without accepting this fact at first. So, random freshman boy, if you want to grow that beard, you should grow that beard! But do not be alarmed if people start treating you differently.

3. Extracurricular Activities – Fraternity Parties

I have an article from the New York Times posted on my wall back home that gives advice to incoming college students. It says, in a miniscule paragraph at the end, that your time spent in dark, dingy, black-lighted fraternity basements actually has some value. I agree. Although the time spent at parties in Collegetown and at fraternity houses throughout freshmen year were largely unfulfilling in an academic sense, it was hugely beneficial in cultivating social skills and (of course) in blowing off steam from the week. The single most important thing that I learned from my time spent in these Keystone Light-drenched hell-holes (and this is great advice for any freshman boys reading this column) is to always see whether a girl sticks her hand out for you to shake when meeting her. It’s always awkward when a girl does not intend to shake your hand and you go sticking yours out anyway. I would not call that tip one of the most important practical lessons that I have learned so far, but it has definitely allowed me to be a more charming, winsome person.

David Fischer is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at dfischer@cornellsun.com. Fischy Business appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: David Fischer