Letter to Freshmen: What CMC Can Learn From Winnie the Pooh?
December 1, 2016
by Jen Vaccaro
Remember the childhood story of Winnie the Pooh? I wish I had remembered its message during my freshman year. Thanks to a discussion in a philosophy class about how Winnie the Pooh represents Taoism, I began to consider what the characters in the story (especially Owl and Rabbit) could teach my fellow CMCers and me about living peacefully and mindfully, especially as midterms and internships fill our minds. If Owl were at CMC, he'd spend his life in the Reading Room. He represents those of us who pursue knowledge, but who fail to listen to and learn from those around us. In conversations, Owl wants to be “correct.” When things diverge from Owl’s vision of the world, he blames ignorance, or what he considers ignorance. Owl believes he is valuable because of his accomplishments. His sense-of-self hinges on out-performing others. As a consequence, his sense of happiness becomes fragile. It becomes dependent upon recognition from the world.
You will feel Owl’s presence at CMC. There’s a piece of Owl (also seen in the form of a Sagehen) in each of us. When in balance, our inner Owl pushes us to investigate, to embrace intellectual curiosity, and to answer tough questions. When out of balance, our inner Owl may make us look down on our peers, on our friends back home, and on those outside our bubble who have different priorities than we do. As we learn, let us also remain humble. Let us remember the limits of fact and the value of living – of going outside the Reading Room, of wandering, of learning from those with and without college degrees. Remember, you are smart, but you are young and you are human. There is much more for you still to learn.
Owl’s friend, Rabbit, symbolizes the busy individual constantly in search of a Great Reward. His G-Cal is booked. Rabbit is more concerned with connecting on LinkedIn than with getting to know you in person. He’s also trying to join every extracurricular at the 5Cs. His resume might look great, but there’s something hollow about the Rabbit’s life. For Rabbit, staying busy reminds him that his time is worthwhile. He never considers why he is running, or for whom. He just keeps going, boasting about how busy he is. What he doesn’t realize is that those who have achieved the Great Reward, a coveted internship, a name on a building – are still running. And like Owl, he represents a piece of us.
Let us use Rabbit as a reminder to stop and to enjoy the moment. To combat the Rabbit in us, think about a habit in your life that you can eliminate. Walk to your next meeting a few minutes early so that you can chat with people on the way. If someone needs help, and it will only take a few minutes out of your day, lend a hand. Or save some time before bed to reflect on your day and on everything you’re grateful for. You don’t have to be a busy Rabbit to get the most out of CMC.
Pooh is, of course, the hero. Owl finds Pooh too simple-minded while Rabbit thinks Pooh should be busier. Yet, Pooh is the happiest. And the most effective. What’s different about Pooh is that he sees and appreciates that which is right in front of him. Pooh recognizes who he is and what he has to work with. He doesn’t try to fit into a mold. He knows he is already good enough.
You could find Pooh walking around the 5Cs, taking a study break at Ath Tea, or sitting in his room reflecting on the day. He would not be afraid of emptiness. He would not need to fill every empty moment by scrolling through Facebook or finishing homework. He would understand the value of taking a few minutes alone, just to think. Come time to declare a major, Pooh would choose what he enjoys, not what he thinks sounds impressive or seems the most popular. He would pave his own path.
When compelled, Pooh would take classes at all the 5Cs and would try to understand the ideas of each, whether or not the course aligned with his political, ideological, or religious values. He would listen to the other perspective all the way through - removing judgement and the itch to respond and explain why he is “correct.” Outside of classes, he may choose some extracurriculars he enjoys, but he may also forgo extracurriculars and instead choose to balance his free time between friends and silence. No matter where Pooh goes, he would understand the value of doing a simple act of kindness: using his Claremont Cash to pay for a friend who has run out of meals, or holding the door open for a stranger carrying packages outside of Story House. Pooh would work, and play, but he would also be mindful of his inner self.
In a fast-paced environment like CMC, you may feel the pressure to let the Owl and the Rabbit dominate you. Learn, join clubs, but also self-reflect. Think about how you can enjoy the here and now. Most importantly, remember that your worth is not the amount of facts you know or the number of extracurriculars on your resume. And just because you are independent college students now, doesn't mean you can't learn a thing or two from a childhood story.