In Defense of School Spirit

Working with traditional aged college students one almost immediately encounters FOMO—fear of missing out. It manifests in anxiety over daily matters of whether they are included in friends’ social media exploits all the way to big-picture fears about picking the “right” major to end up with the “right” career twenty years later. {For more on FOMO and vocation, see Daniel Meyers’ “Making Hard Choices.”}

Writing in the NetVUE volume At This Time and In This Place, William T. Cavanaugh has pointed out how this obsession with maximizing choice usually just works to obscure potential inputs and inspiration for determining one’s most satisfying life path. I want to suggest here a somewhat sneaky way to get students to focus on more immediate goals, helping them learn how to identify noble goals in the future and thereby chart a course for a meaningful life: start by cheering on your mascot and wearing school colors.

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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

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