Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ethics and Meaning in College Life

Recently USA Today College ran a nice little piece concerning ethics in college.  The author, Miriam Schulman, assistant director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, posed five simple questions for students to consider:

  1. What is college worth to me?
  2. How can I live with someone I don’t like?
  3. How far will I go to be accepted?
  4. Should I tell on someone who is doing something I think is wrong?
  5. Is casual sex going to be part of my life?
Wonderful questions.  College life offers so many rich academic and personal experiences.  So many, in fact, that it is very easy to lose sight of fundamental questions which we all must face in our lives: Why am I here, and what am I going to do with my life?  From where I sit, working closely with students, a great many issues and problems could be averted, and a great many lives enhanced, through an active search for answers to these questions.  I believe Socrates said so way back in the misty past.

Students and their families are today focused on the practicalities of college life.  They rightfully ponder over where their students will live, what they will study, how will they spend their time, how will they make friends, and of course how they are going to pay for it all.  These are questions that do in fact need responses.  But the inquiry should not stop there, and all too often it does.  Without the bigger responses to bigger questions, students often live incongruently to their genuine identities and values.  They associate with people they don't truly respect.  They engage in activities which are meaningless or even harmful to them, which may result in a resume' packed with awesomeness but reveals experiences with little or poor quality.  A competent employer will see this instantly.

Spend time, ideally well before college starts, mulling over the big questions.  Set a target, well ahead in time and space, about where you would like to land and explore your existence.  One doesn't travel to another part of the world without having some sense of how one will live after arrival.  Why in the world would we cheat our future selves by not doing the same thing before our college and career journey begins?