– Leisha Senko, staff
If a liberal arts degree teaches us one thing and one thing only, it should be that it is our responsibility to leave the world in a little better condition than when we left it. Classes, which make us think and expand on ideas of social justice and ethics are as idealistic as they are inescapable. Yet, when you really look at what these courses aspire to achieve, there are some pretty clear-cut examples of hypocrisy.
Students often boldly condemn sweat shops and yet go on shopping sprees while some rail against the horrors of poverty and yet spend conspicuously. I’m sure that I’m not the only one guilty of such common crimes – attacks that are often done without malice or forethought but harmful nontheess.
Why and how can this happen so cavalierly? Obviously, personal responsibility is a huge factor. On an individual level we are all in charge of the decisions we make, but there are other societal issues at play too. Shame is a powerful tool, and not only is shopping normalized but it’s even praised. So students who write papers on the unregulated poisons in cosmetics often do so through smoky-shaded eye-lids. It seems ridiculous, laughable almost, and yet this is just the way things are. Few, if any it seems, are able to make the lasting leap from ideas to solid behavioural changes.
This is where cognitive dissonance comes into play. The term is used specifically to refer to the action of holding one set of beliefs while simultaneously doing something exactly counter to them. Psychology teaches us that this makes us uncomfortable, unhappy and generally confused. It isn’t good for us, and yet the modern student appears to live in this state constantly. On one hand the intellectual rigor of a Bachelor of Arts degree opens our eyes to the horrors of the world, the inequalities among people and the way our world is rocked by poor consumption choices. On the other hand, Thursday nights are often filled with hard partying and duds. Do students not care? Obviously they do, we know they do. Those who advocate for this type of system in classes are shrugged off as no less than heartless sociopaths. There in lies the cognitive dissonance.
Maybe the issue is that students by necessity live a double life, and much of the care and compassionate choices they want to adopt are sectioned off in a remote corner of one personality. The idealized, abstract notions given to us are thought of as nothing more than that. We know what we’d like to see the world become, yet so few of us know the right steps to actively make a change and many more don’t even bother to connect the dots. It comes down to the fact that it’s very easy to do nothing; when one’s mind can happily barricade wants from conscience, there seems to be no real chance. The problem is that the dividing line between concrete, tangible, real life and the abstract ideal is so neatly prepared that while students have time to question structures and notions, they don’t question them in their own lives. This needs to end.
There are professors who are breaking the boundaries, talking about current crises and listing immediate real actions. I can only hope that these keep coming and that more attention is paid to the tangible in our own lives.