“Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.- Lois McMaster Bujold, Memory.
“probably formed by Wyclif on the Latin agōnia of the Vulgate; though also found in 14th cent. French, agonie . The Latin is < Greek ἀγωνία contest, hence, mental struggle, anguish; < ἀγών , agon n.q.v.
The development of the senses in Greek was < 1. A struggle for victory in the games; 2. Any struggle; 3. Mental struggle, anguish, e.g. Christ’s anguish in Gethsemane.” – Oxford English Dictionary.
After studying in University for three semesters, I have learnt many things. A good majority of it is non-academic. Of course, I’ve had to learn them the hard way. No one said life is easy.
Studying in college can really challenge you and make you wonder if what you are studying is really worth studying at all. In school, you will meet many people. Maybe make some friends. And it’s not so much school challenging you.
Rather, it is the people you meet who are the catalyst (and cause) of your ‘struggle’. I hesitate to use the word “struggle” since there are bigger problems in life than school. But it’s a universal truth that the present will always present itself in the worst way possible. It’s a perennial condition.
After awhile, you will get tired of trying. You ask yourself if all this hard work (or s***) is truly worth it. You may try harder than that joker in the corner and sound brilliant in discussions but s/he will get the A. Not you. Again, no one said that life is fair.
The following excerpt will capture everything I want to say. Succinctly.
“Because I won’t let them do it to me. I can’t believe you haven’t seen through all this crap yet, Ender. But I guess you’re young. These other armies, they aren’t the enemy. It’s the teachers, they’re the enemy. They get us to fight each other, to hate each other. The game is everything. Win win win. It amounts to nothing. We kill ourselves, go crazy trying to beat each other, and all the time the old bastards are watching us, studying us, discovering our weak points, deciding whether we’re good enough or not. Well, good enough for what? I was six years old when they brought me here. What the hell did I know? They decided I was right for the program, but nobody ever asked me if the program was right for me.” – Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game.
And yes, you will have every reason to be angry. All this anger and struggling will compel anyone to find an alternative support group.
Like getting a lovely companion (aka girlfriend/boyfriend). I suppose it’s nice to release all that stress on someone and make you feel loved again before you explode from all this lack of affection.
It’s also another reason why ‘religious’ societies are very active in school as well. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a cynic. In fact, I’m a fervent supporter of such groups. It’s always nice to have a group of people to huddle with.
Along the way, some of your seniors in school will tell you to stop “trying” because “there is no point in it”. I suppose that is true. You may not reap any physical rewards from working harder than someone else. Like Dink (from the earlier excerpt), you will grow weary of trying to win and decide to leave it to the fates to decide. Eventually, you will be complicit in the order of things.
So yes, I suppose there had better be a good reason why you’re studying whatever it is you are studying. You may just be really good at it. Or you may just love it. If you belong to neither category, more likely, you are floundering somewhere in the sea. I ally myself with the latter, with several meager attempts to group myself with the latter.
But you know what.
(Here’s where you go “What?”)
There is value in the struggle. That is a *lesson* I’ve learnt from Literature. It’s the reason why we have Romantic poets, twentieth century writers and postmodern writers. It is also the reason why great men always have tumultuous childhoods or trying times. It is hackneyed, but it is true. I’m not trying to inspire you or anything. Far from it. I’m just stating a truth. They’re all trying to break out of a mould. Breaking out of tradition.
“I don’t understand the agon, Odysseus,” said a young woman in the third row. Ada knew her name was Peaen. She was intelligent, a skeptic of all things, but this was her fourth day here.
“The agon is simply the comparison of all like things, one to the other,” Odysseus said softly but clearly, “and the judgment of those things as equal to, greater than, or lesser than. All things in the universe take part in the dynamic of agon.” Odysseus pointed to the dead tree he was sitting on. “Was this tree greater than, lesser than, or simply equal to… that tree?” He pointed to a tall living tree up the hill, at the edge of the forest there…
“That tree is living,” called the heavy man who had spoken earlier. “It must be superior to the dead tree.”
“Are all living things superior to all dead things?… Is a dung merchant alive today a better man than Achilles was then, even if Achilles is dead now?”
“That’s comparing unlike things,” cried a woman.
“No,” said Odysseus. “Both are men. Both were born. Both will die. It matters little if one still breathes and the other resides only in the impotent shades of Hades. One must be able to compare men- or women – and that is why we need to know our fathers. Our mothers. Our history. Our story.”
“Who is to the final judge of agon then?” asked a serious, older man in the fifth row. “Birds, bugs, or men?”
“All,” answered Odysseus. “Each in his turn. But the only judge who counts is you.”- Dan Simmons, Ilium.
If you are a cynic or pragmatist, you may think that this excerpt won’t necessarily apply to you. Well perhaps it won’t. And you may also be thinking that I’m going all “Lit”-ish on you.
But think about it. And yes, the word “agony” comes from the root word “agon”. Odysseus is talking about your conscience. But he is also talking about the value of struggle and death. Who are you pleasing? Or trying to please? Is it leaving behind a legacy behind like Achilles did? Odysseus will probably think so.
You may not be seeking to be a world-changer. In fact, you just want to do well enough in life not to stand out (too much) or be a loser on the streets. That’s fine. I’m sure most people desire the same thing. There is no folly in such desire. But I don’t suppose it makes you any different from a nomad wandering around.
In fact, it even says so in the Bible.
(Oh no, she’s going to go all ‘religious’ on us).
The Bible talks about struggling more than anything else. If you remember the story about Job, then you would know what I mean. Even if you aren’t a Christian, you should be familiar with the story. Or Paul and his thorn in the flesh.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.- Ephesians 6:12
What about Jesus and being stoned? The cross is the very emblem of struggle. And yes, there is value in that struggle.
I find the greatest comfort in the Bible and being Christian. It’s terribly depressing to think that you’re doing all of this for money or maybe personal merit. And I don’t mean this as an insult to atheists or agnostics. It is the one question they can never answer well enough for me.
Why try if I’m going to die?
Or perhaps I’m over-simplifying things. Many atheists are brilliant people. Of course they have every license to say that if they are brilliant. Most of them have got it made already. But what about the average person?
Me? I’m just a humble soul who has somehow hit on a pretty profound truth. Not very impressive stuff. I don’t claim to be an expert about school. Or the rat race. Or life.