Though the region near West Halls is a bit off the beaten track for me, I can’t help but find myself moseying on over to Waring Commons now and then for an infamous cookie and Sunday brunch with my best friend.
After gorging ourselves, we lie outside in the grass, basking in the sun like a lizard on a log or taking shelter in the shade beneath a tree.
West is beautiful and surrounded by beautiful things. It’s easy to just sit there for hours as we muse about our lives and the world around us, picking ourselves apart as if we have the slightest clue about anything.
In this vein, my parents have, more than once, looked me in the eye and shook their heads and assured me that I think I “know everything” because I’m young and don’t “know any better,” and that “one day I will understand.” I have been accused of thinking I’m invincible and being arrogant in my youth.
Sure, I’ve had my big headed moments, but I don’t think their accusations hold much water — in fact, the more I ponder it, the more I’m certain that youth does not equal shatterproof confidence in one’s knowledge of the world.
The more I ponder it, the only thing I think I’m sure of is that I can’t be sure of anything. This seed of a thought took root in my head as my comparative literature class touched upon the ancient Chinese philosophies of Taoism.
According to “An Introduction to Taoism” by Meredith Sprunger, the number one central belief of Taoism is that the universe runs off of an indefinable force known as Tao, and that absolute truth and absolute good are unknowable. Sprunger said, pretty much, the big idea of Taoism is “go with the flow, dude.” Live simply, cherish the gift of life and accept that you will never be able to crack the code of the big picture.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, these basic principles don’t sound like such bad advice, eh?
Absolute truth is an idea that eludes me, and upon consideration, probably eludes us all. I find myself asking what it means ‘to be’. Hamlet once considered, “to be or not to be, that is the question,” and Bill Clinton is quoted, “it all depends on what you mean by the word ‘is,’” and the 1944 Louis Jordan song croons, “Is you is or is you ain’t?” Maybe “being” isn’t an issue. By the principles of Taoism, you either “are” or you “aren’t” and you can never really know which is which.
So as I sat in the grass outside of West ommons one day, discussing with my friend the overwhelming thought of trying to navigate through our lives — so barely equipped with life experience as college freshmen — a wave of relief washed over me. Deciding on a major, scheduling next semester’s classes, finding a job and even getting up the courage to text that person you kind of have a thing for are all important aspects of college life, and it’s hard not to get stressed from time to time.
But for some reason, I take solace in the thought, that despite my undeniable youth, I don’t believe I know everything now — contrary to the belief of my parents. And although I’m no Taoist, I’m willing to accept that it’s difficult to say if I will ever really know anything at all.
As I briefly attempt to fill the shoes of an ancient philosopher, my own advice is to live in the moment and perhaps take the world with a grain of salt. And, I mean, why not take a chance and step outside of your comfort zone? We just need to go for what we want and seize the moment. And though it’s not Hamlet or an ancient Chinese philosopher saying it, our 21st century phrase rings true: “YOLO.”
Caroline Fenlin is a freshman majoring in graphic design and is the Daily Collegian’s Tuesday columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.