End the Culture of Doing

By Ethan Brady

One student at the stress forum last Wednesday said that the goal while pursuing a degree at Middlebury is to optimize the experience. That means finding the “perfect” balance between schoolwork, clubs, and social time. It means if I don’t maximize my daily activities, I might lose out on what I could’ve done.

It seems that students here are too concerned with doing to engage in the act of being. It has become all about making deadlines, attending talks, and optimizing our schedules. The search to maximize every aspect of each day becomes an obsessive hobby. We get a rush when we cross off the next item on our to-do list. It feels good to have things in control.

But soon the task becomes our master. When the measure of a good day in the library is how productive we are, we think of ourselves more as robots than as people. The time we spend on things becomes an equation to be solved. In our search for efficiency we become machine.

When we get caught up in the activities and tasks and things which we can say “I did,” we lose sight of what it means to be here. The residential liberal arts college is a space where shared learning occurs at all hours of the day and all corners of campus. What, then, if we took four years of residency here for what they are? What if we could decide our days’ events not around the tasks we have to do but around the people we wish to see, the meals we wish to have, and the stories we wish to hear? I think then we would be happy.

We students are the most populous part of the community. We are roommates, teammates, and classmates to each other; we are neighbors in the physical makeup of the campus. At its heart, the residential liberal arts college offers a mutual living–learning experience. In our inherent proximity, we have the opportunity to interact and flourish together. We should focus not on doing more but on living with meaning, which comes from community, collaboration, and coexistence.

When we begin to realize each of us is interconnected, when we take ownership of our collective experience and realize our individual gain in doing things is far less meaningful than our collective power in living together, then we have embraced a culture of being. There is no conflict because your living is part of mine. And with that realization, all our individual struggles become one.