Only a few things can stop this campus in its tracks, stopping each and every one of us, busy and stressed in our own unique way, if for only a few moments.
One of these things is the sudden loss of a loved one. In this respect, the Stanford community is still trying to get its legs back underneath it; trying to reanimate after a shocking, if brief paralysis. Stanford, as a whole, will surely move on, though some will mourn longer and take more time to adjust to life without one of our own.
But few of us will look in the mirror and ask ourselves how this could happen on our watch.
Stanford students are busy. That’s why we’re one of the best and most desirable schools in the world. It’s also why we have our own sociological condition named after us. We’re all ducks on this farm, paddling furiously for dear life.
If only I could count the number of times I hear the exchange, “What’s up?” “Not too much,” in my freshman dorm. I’m guilty of it too. I ask too many people how they are without caring for their answer. Sometimes visibly disturbed or stressed people tell me they don’t have much going on. I don’t believe them.
But whether you do or not, I know I’ve got lots happening, and I don’t have time to sit down with you and talk through your issues. They’re probably too complicated. Too personal. You’ll think I’m nosy. So I say, “Cool, see you around.” And as quickly as we stumbled upon each other, we paddle away.
What a shame it is that this exchange happens every day in a freshman dorm that prides itself on its community based on genuine love for each other.
At a Crossing the Line event some months ago, our dorm community made a commitment to replace these stairwell chitchats with honest sit-downs — to earnestly try to get to know one another and to create an environment where no one is afraid to talk about their hopes and fears.
But then Stanford took over, and its breakneck pace, driven students and addiction to excellence consumed most of us. It’s what makes us the best in the world. But it also lends itself to our being too busy to get to know those who don’t happen to be in our classes or in our crisscrossing circles of friends.
It strikes me how I know nothing about many of my friends at Stanford. I complain about early mornings with them, laugh at lunch with them and stay up late working on problem sets with them. But I don’t know what they love, who they strive to be or what they are most challenged by. I certainly do not know the challenges they may face every day.
Some will undoubtedly shy away from outreach. Some just aren’t in the mood to talk about it, or aren’t in the mood to talk about it with you. But we never know when one is on the brink, and we never know whether the tiny reassurances we throw their way can make a difference.
A good conversation makes us feel cared about and loved. It tells us that we’re not alone in our struggles. It can nourish the soul in ways success and constant achievement cannot.
So perhaps it is incumbent on all of us to take more time to sit back and feed the ducks — in soul if not in body. As blithe as we look on the surface, one can never know how desperately we are paddling underneath.
Do you think all Stanford students have a close community to support them? Email Ed at edngai “at” stanford “dot” edu.