I don’t usually speak personally on this blog, but with the end of my junior year and the beginning of the summer before my final year of high school, I figured it might be a good idea to share a little bit about what I have learned over the course of the year.
ONE: People are wonderful.
I'm quite the cynic. That’s not to say that I am a pessimist, but rather that I tend to outwardly express impatience than I do grace. But this year, through various interactions with people around me, I learned how wonderful people are. I can’t even count the amount of times I have struck up a conversation with someone I would have never imagined talking to and was whisked away into an intriguing conversation about something that person was passionate about. And most of this wasn’t even on my podcast, which was designed for that every purpose!
This year, I found myself (twice) at dinner parties surrounded by a plethora of ballet dancers, artists, and professionals. Assuming me to be in college, many of these people spoke to me about their work and their passions treating me like a peer, and even doing so after they learned of my youth. I spoke to a male costume designer about travels in Europe, a interior designer about food photography, and a ballerina about what it’s like to grow up so far away from family.
A lot of things distract people from their wonder, but we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace people. If you let yourself get into circumstances that you may be uncomfortable with, who’s to say what amazing people you might meet and what amazing things you might learn.
TWO: People are terrible.
I mean it; people really are terrible. When meeting people for the first time, it’s easy to just focus on the wonder of their beings but once you go deeper in relationships, it’s hard to ignore how messed up people are. We are selfish, cruel, prideful, and even though we think we are doing right, we often convince ourselves the wrong thing is right.
THREE: Contradictions are ok sometimes.
People are wonderful, and people are terrible. This seems a contradiction, and yet it’s true. I had an interesting conversation with a friend where we were trying to come up with oxymorons. My favorite one that I personally came up with was Roman Catholic (because Roman refers locationally to a specific place but catholic means universal) which stuck out to me because obviously there are a lot of people who are “Roman Catholic”. It obviously cannot be a contradiction in terms, and yet it is. Humanity can be defined as a mess of contradictions, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps, we seem paradoxes because humanity is complex and above the comprehension of our small human brains.
FOUR: I am blessed.
People throw around the word “privilege,” which isn’t inaccurate, but in this context I prefer to use the word blessed. I have been blessed with an amazing family who loves me and raised me on books and God alike, I live in a safe neighborhood that is honestly quite beautiful. I attend an amazing IB school without having to pay tuition and I’m going to the UK this summer for vacation. To top that all off, I live in New York City, where I often mind myself meeting cool and famous people during opportunities I could only imagine. It’s increasingly clear to me that I live a life not shared by all or most of the world, and that I need to be thankful for this but also recognize that it is a blessing in the sense that I did nothing to deserve the circumstances in which I have been raised.
FIVE: I need to share my blessings.
I believe there’s little point in being able to recognize your blessings if you keep them all to yourself. This is definitely something I need to work on. I’m not even talking about big drastic things like becoming a doctor and moving to developing countries or living for a year as a homeless person. But, as I mentioned, I tend to be a cynic, which I think there is little point of when I have so much to be happy and smiling about. Especially with the college application season approaching, I know I need to be able to not just withdraw and be able to get work done, but also to be able to love the people around me that they might be a little more blessed in their own lives.
AND NOW, some thins I learned which likely won't help me in life but I want to share anyway.
1. Orangoutangs are "semi-solitary," which is really just a fancy way of saying they are introverts who need to be alone sometimes to just chill.
2. The R train is slow but pretty cool. It's pretty much like café and if you don't have your headphones in, random people will chat with you and make you feel better about life.
3. There are different kinds of rain. There’s heavy infrequent rain, where drops don’t come very often but come down with a huge unexpected splash, light frequent rain, where drops are small and little but are coming down constantly, and heavy frequent rain, where all hell breaks loose from the sky. I adore the second two types, but despise the first, which makes me feel like I have no control over anything.
Well, I'm off to summer. Hopefully this summer (and senior year for that matter) will have another whole plethora of things for me to learn.
Have you learned anything this year? Let me know in the comments!
- Alexandra G. Kytka
Despite the desire of many high school juniors to "go against the system" at least when it comes to the college process, the fact is that our world is full of systems that we work in and with in order to make anything meaningful at all. Scientists define isolated systems to get a perfect constant of the law of conservation of energy, but even ballet dancers follow a system of dance moves and patterns in their artistic form. But why does any of this matter? Can't we just all destroy the "system" of rules and formalities and find the truest science and dance without it?
In his book Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter explores the idea of an isomorphism, that is, (in the mathematical sense of the word) a one to one correspondent between two sets. In layman's terms, that's a system that helps you understand another system that is more cryptic.
For example, if I give you a pattern of a triangle followed by a square, a pentagon and a hexagon, you may understand that "system" as 3,4,5,6 in terms of the number of sides on the square. That system of numbers (3,4,5,6) itself is not the same as that pattern, but rather it is a separate system that helps you understand the pattern because it holds a one to one correspondence with the original. This is an isomorphism. Also loosely correlating to an analogy, isomorphic systems help you work within another. Just like I know that the next shape will have 7 sides, if given "cat:mouse is as "dog:--," I can know that the -- is cat. So now we know what an isomorphism is in a formal sense, but what does this mean for the "informal" things that (arguably) matter more? In the following lines I will argue that all systems we have in place are our isomorphic attempts to understand the system that is reality.
In his theory of language, linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (and later, in 1956, Roland Jakobson) argued that all language is actually metaphor or metonymy. Calling back to the title of this post, we may uses the example of a "cat." The English word "cat," as he argues, although attempting to use to the same idea as the Egyptian "mau," actually communicates a fundamentally different idea, that is, the idea of a graceful being whose values according to Egyptian culture is completely different from the Anglo-American conception of a "cat." Postmodern philosophers cite this phenomena to claim that language is utterly distinct from reality. However, these academics miss one key point, which is that while language as a system is distinct (or rather, separate) from reality, it is not indeed contrary to it. Otherwise, I believe we would see more significant differences between the nature of things and the labels we place upon them. Rather, any given system of language is our attempt to parallel and understand reality. Thus, I cite language as an example of our isomorphic attempts to grasp at the true nature of reality.
Art and literature are also clear examples of this. Throughout history, we see groups of people use stories to better comprehend principles and truths around them, ex. myths to explain the origins of the universe. But even on a daily basis this is true. The theory of Narrative Identity in Psychology and hermeneutic epistemology proposes that one's identity is formed by integrating individual life experiences into an over-arching and evolving story of the "self". This happens very early in childhood development and is something I have seen personally while babysitting toddlers, who when alone and/or going to sleep often recount to themselves their daily lives and their future plans for tomorrow. This same idea is spoken about by popular writer Malcom Gladwell. The historical and modern use of art forms such as painting and theater do this very thing either on an individual level or on a scale of a nation, event, or larger idea. Through the use of propagandistic pieces like Death of Marat or the Aeneid, nations and people groups define their identity via a story of courage and power. But aside from clear attempts to define identity, literature and art often reveal deeper truths about reality. In The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker highlights key themes and characteristics present across a wide selection of books, a connection that suggests something greater than just coincidence or plagiarism. Rather, these plot types, which include "Rags to Riches" and "The Quest" are direct reflections of human nature and our connections with the universe.
What I have suggested here sounds like a pretty lofty idea, however, despite the fancy labeling of an "isomorphic system," you probably already realize this on some level. As humans, we crave understanding and use many forms in order to satisfy this craving. But my point is larger than this. In creating this deeply layered connection between all these "areas of knowledge" and our attempt to understand the universe, I have really suggested something greater. What all of these examples have in common is the idea of a system, a set of connected parts comprising a complex whole. If we are to take anything from these isomorphic systems, it is that the universe itself is a system– it is orderly, has sets of rules, and is able to be understood on some level. Whether this conclusion is true, or whether humanity has completely failed in creating accurate isomorphisms that can parallel reality... you decide.
Written by Alexandra Kytka.