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Anthony Golden / Gavel Media

Cultivating Disquietude: Responding to Our Near-Utopian Existence

I don’t know exactly what caused the shift in my vision, but lately my world has been illuminated by a different light. It’s an unexpected change in perspective, unrelated to any sort of moral or spiritual change. I find myself marveling at Boston College students when I sit in the cafeteria. I don’t feel any particular emotional reaction to them—I just can’t understand them: attractive, well-clothed, and well-nourished, sitting in a bright, spacious area filled with food. I consider my own situation, and I’m just as confused.

The goal of this article is to cultivate that confusion—that eye of detachment that reveals the irregularity of our situation. Why? Because odd occurrences should be considered, and our lives are odd occurrences. Most BC students are born into homes with relatively secure wealth and some degree of emotional support. Few of us know what it means to suffer severe hunger pains or true exhaustion. Our lives are filled with career opportunities, abstract questions, homework assignments, and meals paid for with special cards. Occasionally, the world outside Boston College intrudes, but in general BC students live in a closed, near-utopian world.

It’s not that BC students don’t have problems; many students experience significant troubles. Money and education can’t guard against everything in Pandora’s box, because pain is inevitable. No life is without suffering. Nonetheless, I can’t avoid the growing suspicion, nagging at me like a seed trapped between my teeth, that for all of the problems I have, there are millions of people who have far more. The very fact that I’m alive at 21 and expect to remain alive for another 50 years or so places me within a very fortunate (and surprisingly small) demographic.

I’m not going to put forward some sort of moral dictate or reasoning. I approve of morality—some forms of it, at least—but I think that a moral conclusion sometimes serves as a panacea. I could resolve the disconcerting reality of my utopia by telling myself that I should change the world for the better, that I’ve somehow earned my life, or that I’ll amend the disparity by making the most of what I’ve been given.

I could respond to the off-putting nature of my utopia by attempting to contribute to the “less fortunate,” responding either to a sense of guilt or responsibility. Both are effective to a certain extent, but neither presents an all-encompassing solution.

I believe that people are inherently selfish; I believe humans naturally attend to their needs due to an evolutionary instinct for self-preservation. It’s not necessarily a negative tendency, because it helps us stay alive. However, it is important to note that overriding the selfish impulse is incredibly difficult: guilt and responsibility only go so far.

I think the best response to the issue is to cultivate disquietude. Instead of coming to a conclusion, I’m better off reminding myself of the oddness of my situation. It’s a meditation practice, free from moral or emotional implications. I should train my eyes to watch for details I typically skim over. I should watch how I react to various events and concepts and be honest with myself about my response. I shouldn’t try to make myself feel sympathy where it doesn't exist; instead, I should ask myself why certain things bother me and why others don’t. In this process of growing awareness, I believe the disquietude will increase as well. And once it’s ingrained within my subconscious, it will start to affect my actions.

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I am large, I contain multitudes. More importantly, multitudes contain and surpass me.