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2014 Spring Issue 8 (June 6, 2014)

Being Humble

June 10, 2014
By Maddy Crowell

If there is one thing I’ve learned at Carleton, one defining characteristic that has changed me in my four years here, it is that I’ve learned what it means to be humble.

I don’t mean humble so much in the popular sense of the word, but rather, intellectually humble: I am departing Carleton with the knowledge that I know absolutely nothing at all. To recognize this has taken me four years, two abroad trips, and the unique, counterintuitive teachings of a liberal arts education.

I entered Carleton pretty convicted in the belief that the world could be broken down into categories, that there were finite answers to big questions. After a few thought-provoking classes, and many long walks with familiar strangers who soon became good friends, and my charts mapping out the world were shattered.

I am now no longer able to find a single unifying, underlying thread to explain humanity. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white. The classroom taught me not how to think, but how to question. The classroom has taught me how to find the gray nuances to every argument, to accept nothing as the Truth, but somehow manage to consider the possibility of one. More than anything, the classroom taught me how to find the gray in myself.

When I’m asked what I “do” at Carleton, I respond with a sort of deer-in-the-headlights gaze. Well, I’m majoring in political science, I explain, but I study political philosophy and secretly I think I should’ve been an English major. I’m moving to India to be a foreign correspondent or maybe a writer after college, but I’d also like to become fluent in French and I have an intense infatuation with Moroccan politics. I’ve learned how to have not one passion, but many, and to pursue each with equal perplexity and complexity, to find the finer threads in each, the divine subtleties.

But I’ve also learned that when my head starts to spin, when I begin to swim in patches of gray and cannot make sense of anything, I’m off to an excellent start. To not know leads to questions, and questions keep me alive, serenely, soberly, painfully, deeply alive. Questions lead to an anti-Darwinian obsession with others, with what can’t be understood. Questions lead to action.

Learning how to not know has led me across an invisible threshold into the beginnings of adulthood. It’s taught me to be aware of the changes my small place in the world can make. To feel responsible to make a change. To become more aware. Or, to borrow a quote from Emerson, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

My time here has been short-lived and never-ending, claustrophobic and self-developing, humbling. But as my fellow classmates and I go into the world to become – not necessarily something, just to become – I will be propelled by nostalgia for this ephemeral time, this slow unpeeling of self-growth, and the rare opportunity to go deep into lifelong friendships and ideas.

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