Given that finals season is beginning and we’re all feeling a little more stressed than usual, I figured it was probably time for a part two of the “seven quotes to help you get through college” segment. The first was entirely comprised of Kurt Vonnegut quotes – so the theme and framework, though not Vonnegut himself, is inspired in part his claim that “Everything you need to know about life can be found in The Brothers Karamazov,” a classic novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and one that I just so happened to take a Humanities seminar on this semester. Without further a due, here are seven quotes as found in The Brothers Karamazov to help get you through college (and life).
1. “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
Dostoyevsky isn’t in anyway referring to spoken lies in this quote. It is the lived lie, the dissonance between your desires and your actions. When the contradictions and dissonances aren’t resolved, we can find ourselves in a rather abysmal state of paralysis. Of course we know not what we want in many situations – but when we have an idea, no matter how vague, and act contrary to it in hopes of appeasing our friends or family, fitting into our society and culture, or pursuing some vague notion of money or nobility, that is where Dostoyevsky’s warning becomes extremely relevant. Losing sight of truth and identity is an initial step down a treacherous staircase – and we must consider this when making choices of college, major, career, and recreation.
2. “I can see the sun, but even if I cannot see the sun, I know that it exists. And to know that the sun is there – that is living.”
Everyone falls on dark and scary times. This is natural – this is nothing to despair over. We know that good times have existed and will always exist before and after the bad. Even when the lows seem to be prolonged and indefinite, as long as we remember the reality that lies beyond them, as long as we remember the sun, then we are succeeding and alive.
3. “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”
Survival is neither fruitful nor rewarding in itself. Life is not defined by our biological processes but by the fulfillment we get out of it – not just hedonistic pleasure but higher reward through human interaction and connection. Making the most of our time under the sun requires a direction toward these higher ideals that make life worthwhile in the first place.
4. “Besides, nowadays, almost all capable people are terribly afraid of being ridiculous, and are miserable because of it.”
I think that of all the quotes listed here this one requires the least explanation. There is no need to take oneself unconditionally seriously all of the time – and a failure to relax and goof off every now and then is simply tragic.
5. “The world says: ‘You have needs – satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.’ This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe this is freedom.”
Unfortunately with the disappearing appeal of a liberal arts education (which is entirely unwarranted and misguided, mind you), colleges and universities have become strictly career oriented. They hammer the ideas of scarcity, salary, and materiality into the heads of students. We’re taught that if we don’t have x internship at y time then you won’t get z job at n investment firm, then you’re in trouble. Instead of working on our moral reasoning and communication, we’re working on our resumes and cover letters. This entire philosophy is nothing but enslavement to modernity. It’s worth asking ourselves at this critical time in our lives which desires are worth pursuing and fulfilling.
6. “In most cases, people, even wicked people, are far more naïve and simple-hearted than one generally assumes. And so are we.”
At every college, every university, despite your wishes to evade the frustration of inevitable high school bigotry, you will find individuals who at first glance, can be perceived as truly malicious, destructive, inconsiderate. But realize that more often than not, this appearance is not a result of genuine malice. Misunderstanding and naivety are at the root of most conflicts – so be cognizant of this in how you perceive your classmates and professors. They may be thinking the same of you.
7. “For all is like an ocean, all flows and connects, touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.”
As students and citizens we often find ourselves at large universities as one student of thousands. The illusion of insignificance confronts us when we want to change something but are seemingly unable to. We must remind ourselves that everything – from a group of friends, to a student body, to a society as a whole, acts and responds as an ocean. Small interactions create ripple effects, rub off on people, and can extend our circle of influence beyond imaginable. Remember that your voice echoes and actions ripple.
That’s all for now. Good luck with finals, and read some Dostoyevsky.