My World in Fifty-Eight Words

William Blake said that some men could see the world in a grain of sand, and he meant, I believe, that some men could see the portent of things.  It is indeed remarkable how little things can sometimes condense the meaning of an entire world.  Here’s one such little thing that appeared in my mailbox yesterday.  It doesn’t condense the meaning of the world, but it does speak volumes one part of that world for those who have ears to hear.

Hi Jonathan,

As a result of the positive shift in attitudes towards mental health, more and more students are seeking out on-campus counseling services. One way of easing the growing burden on counseling centers is to actively promote resilience in your students, to help them acquire the mental fortitude needed to succeed in all areas of collegiate life.

Affected informality is pervasive, and just what you would expect in a world where people have no real friends with which to contrast total strangers.  The author of this message does not know me and did not even type my first name in this breezy, computer-generated salutation.  (The flight to first names also sidesteps the troublesome question of honorifics, where the catch-all Ms. was no sooner invented, then the peril of “misgendering” was invented.)

Generation snowflake is not, they would have us believe, a passel of crybabies or neurotics, but the natural result of an end to the stigma of mental illness.  This is what we call “positive spin,” and it can be applied to any disquieting social development.  There is, for instance, no opioid crisis, only a decline in shame over drug addiction, and a corresponding decrease in the number of families who burry their overdosed relatives in the back yard.

The end of this stigma has placed a “burden” on the poor people who ended the stigma, and whose job its is to deal with all of these crushed flowers.   So they kick it to the professors who already have their hands full teaching math, science and, dare I say it, geography.  We are now asked to add “resilience” and “mental fortitude” to the curriculum, perhaps by setting students adrift in a small lifeboat for three weeks.

And professors who lack the mental fortitude to use the lifeboat strategy are invited by the senders of this message to fly to Washington, pay the sender a large fee, and paint the town red attend a conference with speakers and a workshop.

It’s not the world in a grain of sand, but it is my world in fifty-eight words.

10 thoughts on “My World in Fifty-Eight Words

  1. What does “promoting resilience” even mean? And how is a college professor supposed to teach virtues like fortitude when elsewhere on campus, some shrieking harridan or gender-indeterminate troll is lambasting physical courage as toxic masculinity and moral courage as bigotry?

    I can get behind teaching students professionalism, but frankly, I’ve got more than enough to do teaching them Windows and Linux and Networking and the fine art of troubleshooting. I don’t have the time to figure out how fix everything their parents and the public schools may have screwed up, except by calling them on the carpet when they don’t do the work, expressing votes of confidence for those who could but don’t, and finally let them crash and burn if they won’t listen and learn.

    • Resilience is a hot word at the moment, and it is used in more than one context. It means, of course, a capacity to “bounce back” from adversity or disaster. As you say, this comes after decades of promoting sensitivity, so we can only say reap what you sow. I have a feeling that resilience is hereditary in some people, and I say this as someone who is too easily discouraged. Culture can, no doubt, aggravate or ameliorate the problem, but there is a large biological component. But as you say, professors are already fighting an uphill battle without giving them this additional task.

  2. Resilience should mean the ability to withstand stress, correct. But it now is being used as an incantation by managers who should be allowing academics to teach — geography.

    It is a term of derision in medical circles, where the seminars are supposed to inoculate you from grieving for the loss you witness or from the exhaustion of the extra hours you do in your “weekends and nights”, now mandated by various auditors of the medical council.

    It is almost as bad as “Mindfulness” or “spiritualtiy” when used by managers.

    • In the world of business management, I expect “resilience” is the ability of an employee to keep smiling while being kicked by managers and customers.

  3. I just wrote a thing about resiliency, but I think I used it in a different way. I hope so, anyway.

    How are you supposed to promote resiliency in students? That’s a trait gained through suffering. You cannot both insulate them from bad things like “non-diversity” AND impart upon them mental fortitude. Monty Python’s “Argument” skit comes to mind: In order to bestow upon them the gift of resiliency, you ought to berate them mercilessly.

    Or, you know, leave the resiliency to their personal lives and just teach them geography. They should be able to find their spines without you giving them a map.

  4. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 10/20/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

  5. I’m always suspicious of claims that this generation has achieved some new level of wisdom or virtue. We don’t stigmatize mental illness as much as we used to, but part of that is that we have expanded the meaning of mental illness to include things that would once have probably been thought matters of temperament and personality. I can well imagine someone whom today would be called depressed centuries ago would have been thought melancholy, which might at least have a certain romance to it. Probably most of us would be as eager to steer clear of the really crazy types as our ancestors would have been.

    Like the other commenters, I’m baffled by the call to make students more resilient when we’ve just put so much effort into making them thin-skinned.

    • An ordinary American nowadays likely deals with fewer mentally ill people than his ancestors did, because many of his friends and co-workers are on antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety medication, etc. I’m not sure that counseling has much effect, but I know people who claim they would be a little nuttier without it. Sending a family member to the State Lunatic Asylum was, in the past, a last resort, so “queer folk” were part of everyday life. If a man was barking mad, he wandered the streets and died in a ditch, much like today, but everyday mental illness was an everyday experience.

      I think when they say resilience, they really mean retention. Universities spend a lot of money recruiting students with marginal ability and motivation. These students don’t really want to be at the university, perform poorly in their classes, and drop out after a few semesters. The university doesn’t care to blame itself for cynically admitting unqualified students, so it blames a lack of “resilience” (or campus “climate,” or inadequate financial aid, or lack of minority instructors, etc.). Personally, I think dropping out is often perfectly rational. Resilience, on the other hand, is the insane belief that things will work differently the second (or twentieth) time around.

  6. This sounds like a good thing to me: they are not asking you to coddle them, to hide from them “controversial” viewpoints that might upset their convictions, to create a “safe space”, but the opposite. Sounds like a permission to actually teach.

    Unless it’s a trap. That is really the issue. Two weeks later Ms. Bluehair Barrelgirth goes complaining and then “Whoah, we obviously didn’t mean THAT!”

    • I think you are talking about philosophical detachment, or the ability to hear one’s beliefs criticized, and even ridiculed, while retaining a state of mental serenity. If students have this, they will not need resilience, since they will not get “crushed” in the first place. I think resilience here means an ability to retain high self-esteem in the face of failing grades, disastrous relationships, and a general tendency to fail on all fronts. The ability to “bounce back” is certainly a virtue, but there is a point where it becomes an unwillingness to learn from experience.


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