There’s a fine line between self-actualization and ego-centrism. Declaring publicly that you will speak and act as you deem fit, because you pay $40,000 a year to be in college, flashes EGO in neon lights. (More)
When I was a young squirrel, I wanted to be a grownup so I could say or do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, like my parents. Of course, as a grownup I learned that grownups usually don’t get to say or do whatever we want, whenever we want. Instead of meeting the expectations of parents and teachers, we have to meet the expectations of spouses, children, employers, colleagues, and communities. The notion that “No one will ever again tell me what to say or do” is a child’s fantasy, not an adult’s reality.
For many, that distinction starts to become clear during college. Although about half of college students now live at home to save money, many move out of their parents’ homes for the first time in their lives. Students living in dormitories or apartments can stay out late without answering to any authority other than exhaustion. Many colleges don’t keep class attendance records and, unless there are other checks like in-class quizzes, students can skip class without needing or offering any excuse. Add the many other temptations of campus life, and it’s hardly surprising that almost half of college freshmen drop out or are placed on academic probation. It’s a cold water bath on the concept of personal autonomy.
Apparently so are professors’ expectations, at least for students like Ryan Lovelace of Butler University in Indianapolis. Lovelace’s political science professor passed out a syllabus that, along with the usual reading list and assignments, instructed students:
to write and speak in a way that does not assume American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status, etc. to be the norm.
In other words, a sentence like this …
When a voter goes to the polls, he considers not only the legacy of his ancestors such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but also his wife and his role as a business and community leader.
… would be criticized for its implicit assumption that “a voter” is a white, middle-class, heterosexual, American-born man. Given women outnumber men at the polls, that assumption is factually inaccurate. And given our increasingly diverse electorate, that statement reeks of a privileged claim to what Bill O’Reilly called “traditional America.”
So of course Lovelace dropped the course:
My name is Ryan Lovelace, and I dropped that politically correct political science class.
Clearly, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University believes its students were raised as racist and misogynist homophobes who have grown to harbor many prejudices, a stance that is both offensive and hostile to any student’s ability to learn.
As a student at an institution predominantly focused on the liberal arts, I expected to hear professors express opinions different from my own. I did not expect to be judged before I ever walked through the door, and did not think I would be forced to agree with my teachers’ worldviews or suffer the consequences.
Oh please. No one was judging you, or forcing you to agree with your professor’s worldviews. Your professor announced that she would critique factually inaccurate and/or privileged assumptions in her students’ coursework. Lovelace continues :
The liberal arts college seeks to include people, but someone will always be excluded, as it is impossible to always include everyone. Furthermore, I’m not sure how to write assuming any other persona but my own. Any attempts to do so would only be offensive to people different from myself.
Again, the professor was not telling you to assume some other persona. She was telling you not to assume that your personal history establishes the norm for society. In other words, the universe does not revolve around the axis of Ryan Lovelace, a lesson your conclusion suggests is sorely needed:
Lastly, the idea that people have different views from mine is not what makes me uncomfortable. The idea that I must walk, talk and act as the liberal arts college pleases does. I’ll speak as I always have and conduct myself in the way I deem fit. I think paying $40,000 a year should give me that basic right.
Oh please. Yes, in college, you must “talk and act as the liberal arts college pleases.” They assign papers and write exams. You write the papers they assign and take the exams they write. They grade your papers and exams. If your work doesn’t meet their standards, you fail …
… even if you’re paying $40,000 a year to be there. You are not a customer. You’re a student. You’re there to learn … not to “speak as I always have and conduct myself in the way I deem fit.”
And guess what? If you graduate and find a job, you’ll find your boss also expects you to “walk, talk and act” as the company pleases. If you find a Special Someone, he or she will also expect you to respect his/her feelings in how you “walk, talk and act.” You will never get to do whatever you want, whenever you want, expecting everyone else to make room and bask in the reflected glory of your majestic, fully autonomous Self.
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs put Self-Actualization at the summit, but that is not a state of ego über Alles. It is a state where self-acceptance includes recognizing one’s own flaws, and is balanced with an equal acceptance of others. It is a state where independence and autonomy are moderated by profound interpersonal relationships and a sense of fellowship with humanity.
When you declare an intention to speak and act as you deem fit, because you’re paying $40,000 to attend college, you’re not announcing your fully self-actualized maturity. Quite the contrary.
But there’s good news. You’re still young and you still have time to grow up.
Good day and good nuts.