You and Your Agenda

Credit: Sarah Stonehocker

When do you feel clear about what you’re doing? How often do you feel a moment reduced to what you can accomplish in it, a day evaluated by the number of items crossed from that ever-growing to-do list in your agenda? And who sets the agenda?

By Anna Stonehocker

Resolve comes in many forms, but I think the deepest is found in the people who ‘set their own agenda’; they have a special kind of strength.

We can resolve to do many things. Our successes may be a function of pure effort, of privilege, of chance. Maybe you resolved to stay at the top of your class and found yourself admitted to a well-reputed institution. Maybe you’ll keep up the effort and find yourself employed in a highly coveted position. But what motivates you?

Seeking external affirmation threatens to hollow the sincerity of our intent. A life ruled by others’ standards robs us of the hardest and most beautiful choices: What do we really value learning? How to we want to spend our time? What matters? Now especially, during these initiatory years of ‘adulthood’ and quasi-independence, we are scavenging a path for ourselves. We search in the wreckage and richness of this absurd, globalized world. Our generation, more than any before, is subject to a million voices telling us which way to turn, with a lack of stillness in which to reflect upon them and make our choices our own. Continuously plugging in to social networks creates “mental noise” which pervades all the spaces in our day; spaces already infrequent due to the bursting schedules we make for ourselves in order to be as ‘productive’ as we can. As a result, quietude in a pure form becomes rare, along with solitary reflection.

This not only malnourishes our own sense of everyday meaning, but, on a larger scale, is dangerous. Freedom without conscience can lead to dark places.

Thoughtless consumption brings environmental wreckage. Superficial media spreads misunderstanding.

If I may be imaginative, an extreme lack of reflection paired with hyperactive growth paints a dystopian picture: The human race drugged on instant gratification, continuously looking for its next hit… Sounds kind of fun, but who’s to say what damage will be caused in the meantime?

Technology advances, media diversifies forms of creation and expression. Systems for doing and making grow, while traditions offering moral structures and introspective practices shrink to the periphery of the public sphere, in the name of secularity.

There is more and more room to do, gain, and grow and less and less room to, in the quiet of our own hearts, ask why.

To me, resolve is just this: asking yourself why. And living by the answers. It’s ‘setting the agenda’ you live by.

It’s living from your heart, not just in the moment when the clock strikes twelve on December 31st through a drunken, euphoric countdown or kiss. I mean living from your heart in the sense of believing in what you do and doing what you believe.

This process cannot be divorced from systems of education. The alleged space for disciplined, critical thought should allow us to ask ourselves why. What does resolve look like at Sciences Po?

Sciences Po is a name we like to live under, in many ways. It represents something: high standards, rigorous academics, successful graduates, international, interdisciplinary… [insert connotations here]. We are rightfully grateful for a serious education, and the doors it may open to us in the future.

But I think the danger of success, here and wherever we land next, is the blindness it might create in us.

We study in a reputable institution, but all too often become the passive functionaries of its demands. My hope is that, through our own resolve, we can counter this.

It has been deeply disheartening to see people around me (not excluding myself) shrink under academic pressure into hollow shells of themselves; those faces once animated with an essential vivacity, curiosity, and zeal, become paler, marked with lines of exhaustion and stress. “I’m busy”, “I’m tired”, “I don’t have time”, are phrases we hear too often. No time to relax, to pick up a book outside of mandatory readings, to hear each other’s’ stories like in those first conversations that sparked our friendships.

Amidst the barrage of deadlines and associations, applications and evaluations, what’s our aim? What are we living for? And who? It is all too easy to forget the bigger picture, to lose our sense of purpose in the pursuit of meeting criteria.

Resolve is remembering our purpose. I see this as crucial in today’s noisy world, and our generation facing it.

For me at Sciences Po, it’s a reminder to truly wonder, when the parentage of curriculums might numb us from thinking for ourselves. To stay human; taking with a grain of sand the mechanisms of grades and rankings in favor of what we are actually learning.

After all, remembering the bigger picture is not only useful on the individual level, but as a way to build a more considerate community. Just like on the larger scale of environmental carelessness or harmful media, lack of reflection can degrade the whole. At Sciences Po, a pause to reflect can curb habitual reactions, in situations where they may otherwise create harm. It can remind us to look after one another when it’s all too easy to get caught up in our own busy routine.

And remembering to keep things in perspective overall might simply encourage us to relax now and then, read a poem, or make a new friend. After all, what is the value of our education if it’s manifestation in us is little other than a slow and pervasive mechanization of our lives? Surely we are driven by more than a panic against the clock to tick things off the to-do list.

My proposal for the New Year is that we ‘set our own agenda’. This is my understanding of the deepest resolve. That we take the time to reflect, to discern what we’re living for, and to live by the resolves we set.

Anna Stonehocker

Anna is one of those people for whom living in Menton is a huge change. Coming from the cold prairies of Canada, she had to adapt not just to the local climate but also to the tininess of Mentonese world. Writing is for her a way to be honest with herself. Her texts try to find clarity, but often end up raising more questions than answers. Anna is a first year, English track student in the dual degree with University of British Columbia.
Anna Stonehocker

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