Lost Causes

It’s difficult to think productively about the future when the world seems pitted against your very well-being and existence. That is how many of my students are feeling these days.

Obj. No. L.3.2010 Henry Mosler (American, 1841-1920) The Lost Cause, 1868 Oil on canvas 36"H x 48"W 91.44 cm x 121.92 cm Note: signed and dated lower right, Henry Mosler. / 1868. Image must be credited with the following collection and photo credit lines: Lent by the Johnson Collection. Courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Photo: Travis Fullerton© Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Henry Mosler (American, 1841-1920), The Lost Cause, 1868. Lent by the Johnson Collection. Courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.  Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Their hopelessness is earned, their despondency legitimate. It is not born of fragility or a lack of resiliency, as some pundits of higher education often want to suggest. My otherwise hard-working and motivated students are demoralized and exhausted.

And so are most of my colleagues at the small college where I teach — as are most of my friends who teach, in one capacity or another, spread all over the country. And so am I. Many of us trying to understand our own devotion to what seems, at least at the moment, to be a lost cause.

I have previously written about Continue reading

Starting from nothing

In the work of helping students discern their vocation, I have found myself thwarted by a certain type. Tell me whether he sounds familiar to you.

dataspel_1Jeff has glided through life, keeping himself busy with schoolwork and perhaps a few extra-curricular activities, but has nothing that provides him with a sense of accomplishment or connection to others. He has invested a great deal of his time over the years to entertaining himself, playing video games, surfing the web, and binge-watching television shows. When I press Jeff about what is important to him, in an effort to try to get a sense of his underlying commitments, it can begin to seem as though nothing is there. Jeff is not depressed, and in fact he seems quite happy to move into his future continuing to fill his days with entertainment.

What does vocational discernment look like when you are seemingly “starting from nothing”?

My usual approach begins with an exploration of my students’ fundamental commitments — getting underneath their interests and aptitudes in order to get a sense of what makes them tick. For many of my students, Continue reading

Royce, loyalty, and vocation – some initial thoughts

Writing in 1908, in part responding to what he saw as the problematic and radical individualism of American culture, Josiah Royce suggested that the whole moral life can be centered on the singular virtue of loyalty. Loyalty, as Royce defined it, is the “willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause”Josiah_Royce [from The Philosophy of Loyalty (Vanderbilt UP, 1995) 9]. In the same work, Royce goes on to spell out how a “cause” can serve as the overarching focus of human lives, connecting them to others through concerted, coordinated action.

My hunch—an idea that I would like to pursue through this project—is that Royce’s work can serve as a resource for vocational discernment because Continue reading