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Finding inspiration in Western Civilization

August 21, 2012

So I’m taking this class – Honors Western Civilization – about which many have warned me. The workload is supposed to be killer, and the professor expects a lot in terms of nightly readings, much discussion participation and response papers. When I stood outside my Western Civ classroom this morning, I felt intimidated, but I quickly learned that despite what people have said, I think this could end up being one of my favorite classes at KU. What a statement.

As my professor ran through the syllabus and introduced us to the course, she dropped some nuggets of knowledge to prove why this course matters (She better have some sort of answer for that; this is a Gen Ed requirement, after all) and why it is important to lead an examined life. First and foremost, she stated why education is important, and it all has to do with gaining wisdom, for “Wisdom is the capacity to figure out what is valuable in life. Figure out what you value in life and do something that works around it, and you will be happy.” Basically, we learned the secret to a full life, and it only cost $278.80 a credit hour!

In this class, we will read ideological perspectives from various points in Western history, and we will discuss how ideas lead to action, which leads to consequences. My professor made the point that “In the long run, ideas are more powerful than guns. A thousand bullets can’t stop an idea when its time has come.” That’s a pretty powerful idea in itself, and it’s so true. When I think about the people in history who made things happen because they had an idea and could articulate it well and persuade others to follow that idea, I am floored. Of course, I immediately think of the negative implications of this, like dictators and final solutions. But then, I think about the glaringly obvious times this has led to positive things, like when Thomas Jefferson wrote those famous words in the Declaration of Independence declaring all men are created equal. It was a powerful idea that even the most powerful country in the world could not defeat.

Then, my professor tried to prove why leading an examined life is important by honing in on a situation applicable to many college students. When we graduate, we have to find a job and make money and support ourselves. Makes sense. But one sentence my professor said in particular stuck with me more than anything today: “We are more than just fitting into the economy.” Sometimes, actually, all the time, it is vital to lead a life surrounded by what one finds valuable because only that can make one happy. It doesn’t benefit anyone to pick a major or a career solely because it will lead to many job opportunities. I understand that it’s important to find a job, don’t get me wrong. But I think it’s more important to live what you love, rather than live for the bank account. Hey, maybe I’m just naïve, but as my professor said today, “What we believe is true is more powerful to us than what is actually true.” And therefore, I will set those high goals for myself and go for those hard-to-get internships I yearn for and take (at least mostly calculated) risks and show that I am worth more than just fitting into the open spot left for me in the economy.

Finally, our first reading has to do with the Hebrews because according to my professor, “The Hebrews developed the idea that history mattered, so they wrote it down. They thought history was meaningful. When you write it down, when it matters, it changes things.” I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of my people.

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From → Sophomore

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