By Roni Grinstein
I remember when my friend came to visit me, he couldn’t help but wonder: “Is it you that attracts people that are emotionally complex, or is it this place?” (as he put it). His question struck me, mostly because of his sincere observations and sensitivity towards noticing the complex inner worlds of many people around, without them sharing personal stories. I explained to him that I believe that the concept possibly of “liberal arts” college is quite specific and therefore, it sometimes appears to me that it attracts very special and specific people. I also told him it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with this place. However, although I answered his question quite intuitively, I am still questioning it myself.
In 2018 Delgado indicated that liberal arts graduates are better at identifying and understanding human skills such as creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and communication.[i] This observation of hers has reinforced my question more, what is it in UCR that draws people with deeper understandings of emotional complexities, or rather is it the intensity of this program that pushes students to the “edge” and evokes these areas.
I do not know what the answer is, and as usual in life, it probably lies somewhere between the two. However, I do have a few thoughts I would like to share regarding this.
There is something I feel we share here at UCR. We all seem to have been looking for something different. Something in life seems to be beyond our reach. Sometimes I think that this is a place for all the people that felt misunderstood growing up, but then I remind myself, that is most of humanity.
Another idea I have thought is that having an interdisciplinary curriculum might draw people who have an interdisciplinary personality, as cliché as that sounds.
Maybe the idea of a small town in Europe is romantic to many of us, I feel much of this small community are dreamers, wanting to romanticize life, and I think this brings much beauty and much complexity with it. Then I think there is the historical context of our generations. This arises most when I speak to my grandmother. I suddenly understand the immense differences between her generation and ours when it comes to reflecting upon our emotions. Her past was full of depletion, emotional and physical. In no sense am I claiming that past generations had a less complex emotional life, rather that they did not have much space in societal realms. This is no surprise since our ancestors, close and far, grew up in realities filled with deprivation, and the ongoing mission to claim themselves and their being (whether it was because of colonization, war, or other forms of depletion where cultural norms focused on ensuring survival rather than on human enhancement). Still today we are facing these challenges worldwide, yet something sparks different, we speak openly about our personal pain that comes with this destruction of human dignity, we mourn for them, we post on social media our concerns, and we feel a bit more united. It could be that the generation of overconsumption has posed us to question our values and to speak openly about them. To feel we have not yet lost our touch with what makes us human, we are still here, hurting and feeling, and we are open about it. This is further reinforced by Mark Wolynn[ii], author of “It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle”. In his book, he understands that the roots of depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and chronic pain, all reside in the lives of our parents, grandparents, and ancestors. By claiming so, Wolynn manages to evoke a central question for me; with all that has been faced in history, how could the case be otherwise?
I truly believe that the acknowledgment and openness of our and future generations towards these emotional complexities can lead us to a more empathetic and compassionate future. When humans feel their inner world is important and acknowledged a whole new world Is discovered by them. At the end that is all we really need, someone to look into our eyes and see that we too, as all human beings, carry this pain and suffering in our hearts, that we want to be heard and seen. I believe being here showed me how not being afraid to shed light on your dark and internal scars can lead to a healthier and better community.
“Safe spaces” is a term I have come to know from here, and I can only wish that we keep normalizing these safe spaces, within and outside of UCR. The impact of having a place to speak your pain, share your truth, and feel acknowledged is something that I wish to take from here onwards. I know humanity has a long way to go, and that we here are only a specific community that is interwoven within itself.
So, to come back to my initial question, whether UCR draws people with “more” emotional complexities or evokes them does not seem to really matter. What does matter is that we acknowledge this, we make a safe place for it, and we end our careers here with the knowledge that we too can create these places wherever we will be, shedding a bit of light on the absurdity of human experience.
[i] Delgado, P. (2018, November 21). Human skills and the value of Liberal Arts graduates – observatory: Institute for the future of education. Observatory. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://observatory.tec.mx/edu-news/human-skills-and-the-value-of-liberal-arts-graduates
[ii] Wolynn, M. (2017). It didn’t start with you: how inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. New York, New York: Penguin Books.
Image Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/opinion/sunday/the-seduction-of-safety-on-campus-and-beyond.html