“So, what do you think about this?”
The 30 seconds of silence resounding after my professor posed this question to our class could have lasted an hour. Yes it was refreshing to not be in the typical lecture mode, but did I, or any of my classmates, have any thoughts to really contribute?
After the 30 seconds is up, the professor usually extends a friendly reminder that all thoughts are welcome in the “safe space” of our classroom and that even erroneous and blatantly stupid ideas will be received with welcoming arms. No matter how assuring this plea for conversation may be, the class remains silent. What is going on?
The more and more I watch my classmates draw blanks with this question, the more and more I wonder at my professor’s dejected disappointment. A group of friends in a class has no problem conversing amongst each other before class, but the second we are asked to evaluate something in this way, there is an impenetrable silence. What contributes to this silence and what I believe to be the cause of it, is not shame nor indifference but inability.
“The man who is not struggling or the man who is completely carefree does not exist. This is our human condition, this is what it means to be a man, this is our fate” (3).
I think it is here, in his introduction to Man in the Struggle for Peace, that Charles Malik gives us the answer to our silent class discussions. We have forgotten that we are men.
Man is uniquely capable of this kind of response that is being asked of my professor, namely, the ability to think critically. Humanity is set apart in this ability by nature. It gives us our highest degree of existence that separates us from all other living things. It is this rational capability that allows man to reach all new heights. He is able to think outside of himself, that is in a transcendent way. His work-a-day world is no longer consumed by himself but has an ability to bear value outside of himself. It is unique that man can go to an 8 to 5 job and do it out of love. He can sacrifice his time and energy for the sake of providing for those whose care he is entrusted with. No other being can do this.
It is not that modern man, especially us millennials, are incapable of this same transcendent thought that has been hallowed throughout the ages as uniquely personal. Rather, I believe it is that we have forgotten that we are made to do it. We don’t read a philosophical text or otherwise in order to critically evaluating its work. We read it to understand what it is saying. In this investigation, we have forgotten to look for the why and the how.
And now you may be wondering why and how have we gotten to this place. Here, I could proceed to say this is the shortcoming of our education system or that it is the fault of modern advertising to short term pleasure, but the point here is not to place blame. The point here is that until man learns to wrestle, he will find no peace.
Two of my younger brothers competitively wrestle and I would not say that watching them makes me confident that peace can come out of any sort of wrestling, physical or rational. But, this aspect of the wrestling of man is what is foundation to human nature for Malik, especially in man’s destiny to peace.
I think all of us college students have either been or have encountered a peer who changes their major constantly. One day it is psychology, the next it is English, then it is education. I think what Malik is explaining in this great capacity of man to struggle is what is at work for the indecisive freshman. The world of possibility has been opened in this opportunity of education. And so, the student must decide which major will bring him peace.
In the case of the student, one can only wonder what happens when the major is chosen almost whimsically, when it is not the fruit of such struggle. I think what happens is that the person then finds no aspect of their own humanity coming alive in their study. They are not finding peace. Malik says it is in this choice of one thing after struggle, that man can find peace. If man does not assent to the “struggle” of thinking through his infinite number of “open doors”, then he will never find peace. Peace comes as the gift of a willingness to wrestle. Peace is the satisfaction of finding what will make me come alive.
If professors want answers to their class discussion, if we desire happiness in our 8 to 5 job, if we want to find peace at all, we must learn to struggle.
Investigate. Reflect. Discuss. Repeat.
This is the rhythm of wrestling and what a tragedy it would be if we did not give it a shot.
1) Image One.
2) Image Two.
3) World Youth Alliance, “Track A Training”, 18.
4) Image Three.
5) Image Four.
6) World Youth Alliance, “Track A Training”, 18.