On Immigration Debates

The great ‘Immigration debate’ is one of those great drunken Jacks-in-a-box, one of those recurring national issues which won’t stop rearing its head every once in a while in ‘developed countries’ (God, I hate that term). Being a teenager living in a town/multicultural town/ghetto/failed liberal experiment/ticking timebomb, delete as is your political ideology, and being the child of a parent born in England but with ethnic roots elsewhere while the other parent naturalised and well, naturally I have something to say about it.

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The Nature of Opinion, and Why We Differ

I just love Bill Watterson.

I may be two weeks late, but Happy New Year nonetheless! We’re already halfway through January, the dual month of beginnings and endings.¬†For some reason, new followers have trickled in since my last post to the point where there are now around 600 of you. For some reason, over a week ago, I got offered a place at the University of Cambridge to read English. And thankfully, probably due to a rest from college work and all the positive messages I’ve been receiving, I’m in a much better place mentally than I was a month ago. I don’t know how long these good omens will last, but I’m definitely endeavouring to act on them.

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No, Fair Systems are Not Fair

Another week in the world of education, and another teenager, Ms Suzy Lee Weiss, has gone through the epiphany after several university rejections that university admissions systems are not fair. Well, no crap Sherlock.

Yes, yes, her writing is satire. Yes, it’s tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating; she’s got so much wit and cleverness that she’ll go far…yada yada yada yawn. That she’s smart enough to write a piece of social commentary and not appear stupid on television isn’t really that amazing. There are many teenagers, all across the world, at many different ages, who are capable of the same things. It’s not a magic Midas touch, it’s simply a matter of temperament. Yes, she’s clever, but she really shouldn’t be afforded some special attention just because she’s pointed out what most people have known for ages:

Fair systems are not really fair.

Actually, I can’t think of a system that is fair. Can you? They may work, certainly, but they may not be completely fair in that they may not work to the convenience of everybody. Usually the majority, but not everybody. There’s an often fundamental flaw in everything, from job application systems to traffic.

So, if I agree the system isn’t fair, what’s the problem with Ms Weiss’ article?

It exposes the deeper modern problem, I think, that generations of youth are raised to expect certain things. We are taught that when we do A, we will get B, when we do B, we get C…and so on. We are trained in nursery to get into junior school, at junior school we are trained to get into high school, and from high school we are trained to get into university and so on. When we complain that this rigid route doesn’t make us happy, we are promptly told that the only way we can be happy, truly happy, is to acquire the money that will enable us to be happy. No matter what we want to be, it is only money that will make it possible. And thus we return to the route.

Yes, it is a question of money.

Look, if people weren’t concerned about money and how they’d be able to feed themselves in the future, there would be less people going to university. There’d be less people working 9-5 hours in office jobs to make enough money to get into the job they actually want to do. We do these things only because the established route tells us that money is necessary to enable us to live adequately enough that we can find happiness. If money (and the prestige associated with it) was no object, the only people going on to higher education and caring about ‘Ivy League’ quality would be the people who found it truly delightful to learn. Which, unfortunately, is not that many teenagers.

Ms Weiss, like many other teenagers across the globe, appears stuck on this route. Her real complaint, although she may not realise it, is not the flawed admissions system but this flawed happiness system. Rejection by universities she felt entitled to attend opened her eyes to the flaws of the system. I think for a moment she realised that she had been lied to by her entire society, in that this search for money doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. This route is not as rigid as it appears; few people who follow it ever actually attain the comfortable monetary status they seek. The instability of college admissions opened Ms Weiss’ eyes to the variables which conflict with this goal. Yes, certainly money gives you time, resources and the opportunity to pursue happiness, more so than poverty or living on the bread line. But the mistake that is too often made is that many people are taught that money and happiness are interchangeable. And when they realise that this route is not so straightforward as one has been told, it leaves people shaken. You begin to question your life so far and you ask: what is the point of all of this? Why do I bother if I’ll never actually reach my goal?

In Weiss’ case, immediately after asking that question, she looked to find a source of blame so that she could move back onto the route. It’s the unfair admissions system stopping me, not anything I’ve done/not done.

What we need to do to stop this from happening is that we need to tell teenagers new things.

  1. Yes, trying is the way to success. But. Sometimes, no matter how much you try, you will not succeed in your goal.
  2. Often, this is because you have the wrong goal. You’re looking for success at the end of the road. Sometimes, ‘success’ is the happiness, the experience, the friends and the life you make as you travel down that road.
  3. Life isn’t fair, and it never will be.
  4. Happiness is a form of wealth. Wealth is not a form of happiness.
  5. Actually, do be yourself. It’s not what universities or employers are looking for, but it’s the way to be happy. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t get where they did faking it, they got where they did trying to do what made them happy.

Focusing on the unfairness of one particular stage of life never got anybody anywhere. Ms Weiss’ case will die down soon, and as she is already apparently from a good middle-class background, with a sister working for the Wall Street Journal, she’ll likely graduate and find her desired job soon enough. At some point she’ll likely realise that it makes not so much difference where you went to school but rather, what you got out of it.

Money isn’t necessary for a happy life. Definitely, a hand-to-mouth existence isn’t easy at all – I know that myself; my family is far, far from wealthy – but there’s something wrong with living to make money to enable you to live to make money. That is only living to survive. Supporting a family isn’t easy on low funds either, I understand that. Many people think the idea of seeking out only happiness is ridiculous liberalism, and that’s understandable, because after a certain age and set of experiences that is no longer an option. But I’d like to see a generation, just one, which told its children to live their lives seeking happiness, not ephemeral pleasure or money. Just happiness. Somehow, I don’t think they’d have the same problem. Because they wouldn’t go into it believing that things would be easy. But they’d go into life knowing that as hard as things got, they’d be happy at the same time.

At some point in the past you were born, and at some point in the future you’ll die. Living is not obsessing over trivial matters, but meaningfully making up the difference. And if you disagree with me, the comment section is just below.

The Eternal Hanging…

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…of an uncompleted dream is torturous, painful, and as already stated, never-ending. It is your failure trapped and suspended forever in purgatory, forever for you to look back and wistfully reminisce, because when you had the opportunity you did not take it. You did not dare, you did not try; you had the want but not the will. Often people fear the realisation of their own dream. Sometimes they call it impossible because they didn’t dare achieve it themselves. It is a simple fact that although the future of the world will only be determined by today’s dreamers, very few of today’s dreamers will determine the future of the world.

It’s true that sometimes it truly is difficult or nigh impossible to grasp at every opportunity. But many people aren’t sure what they want, if anything at all, and this second situation is a poor excuse for passing up the opportunities that come one’s way. An excuse in this habit creates an attitude of not striving at all, of underachieving. It is in cases like this that people look back in their older years, wishing for more time which will never come. Because they did not strive then to grasp what came their way, or to create their own opportunities.

Almost a year ago, I received my grades for my final high school year (Year 11). And they were good, but for me they weren’t great, and for a long while I was kicking myself over them. I still do sometimes, because I did not use the opportunities I had to do the best that I could. So now, in Year 12, I’ve made it a point to grab opportunities as they come. I became a class representative, I write for the newspaper, I entered an essay prize which has never been won by a state school student; I’ve applied for both a university and a creative writing residential course. I’ve learnt basic Mandarin, and my green owl friend to the right is helping me learn French and Spanish. I’ve enrolled in an online course offered by Harvard, and on school days I frequent the library so much that the librarians all know me on a first-name basis and chat to me about their children. And yes, I do find the time to sleep. ;)

Perhaps my opportunity-grabbing is excessive, but all I’m trying to say is that it’s better to go for opportunities than to waste them. They often don’t come back, and while it is possible it is also certainly harder to bring about your own. At the moment, I’m working with Year 11s who are failing their English course. The hardest part of the job is not teaching them the material, but convincing them that this last opportunity to improve their grades is worthwhile.

Maybe opportunities don’t always get you where you want to go, but they still leave you with valuable experience. They are not just the career or dream-related things, but also the little things which help you grow as a person. Whether that’s spending time with a family member when you otherwise wouldn’t have, or having a chat with friends when some days you feel you’d rather be alone, they help you as a person. They are experiences you will likely not regret having undertaken.

So chase those opportunities. Don’t over-burden yourself with them, but chase them. Especially if you don’t know where they’ll lead. Ask yourself, how many of your favourite memories were planned? Isn’t it better to turn the corner, blind, than to keep going and glancing back at what could have been?