University: it’s a place to explore ideas. Old, new, good, bad, theoretical and realistic ideas – they fill books, conversations, art and PowerPoint slides all over campus.
Ideas help us grow as people, being perhaps the most valuable part of a complete education. When profound enough, the growth from these ideas becomes an identity. The values and belief systems derived from some ideas dictate our actions so much that they cause us to call ourselves Christians, Communists or conservatives.
Ideas’ ability to impact our identity makes college a crucially decisive time in our lives. We have the ability to read the “Communist Manifesto” alongside “The Social Contract” and compare and contrast the teachings of Jesus and Buddha.
The marketplace of ideas is expansive and diverse on this campus; we are able to see the world through countless lenses, deciding which ones to include in our daily lives. This is all very exciting, but there is a threat to this great period of development and growth: identity foreclosure.
Identity foreclosure is settling on an identity before exploring more options, and it’s a common problem for college students. It could be a religious person who is certain he or she has the exclusive connection to truth or a student who refuses to see the values in a different political system.
It’s when we make up our minds before we even look at the other side. It makes us unteachable in many ways. While it’s still possible to “learn” enough to make an A on a test, identity foreclosure makes it nearly impossible to grow as a person through new ideas we encounter on a daily basis.
The problem with this is that we lose out on the belief system that resonates with us most personally. By defaulting to the systems we grew up with or learned of first, we can stunt our own growth.
When I was in high school, I found myself in a similar situation. I spent years defending fundamentalist Christian ideas, though they weren’t the ideas that best represented me. It wasn’t until I seriously considered other belief systems that I realized other ideas represented me much better.
I’m glad I realized what was happening while I was still young, though I still think of all the time and energy I put into a set of ideas that were contrary to my own. I should have been listening to other ideas far sooner.
How can you know that Jesus’ teachings are best for you until you have read those of Buddha? How can you be a true Democrat until you have listened closely and openly to the ideas of a Republican?
Perhaps deep down you aren’t actually a Christian or Buddhist, conservative or liberal. Maybe you just haven’t heard the right perspective yet.
As we continue classes for the rest of the semester, I hope we will use them as an opportunity to get the most out of our education. By being open to new perspectives, we may be able to find the identities that best suit us, and we can grow into who we really are.
Daniel Payne is an integrated marketing communications major from Collierville, Tennessee.