Do we do things because they are not commanded?

26 Feb

The other day I was reading confessions of St. Augustine. When talking about study, I was amazed to discover that he actually found study irksome, because he was made to study by his teachers. Then he realized that he had advanced much more in Latin, a spoken language then, than in Greek, which was considered a foreign language. He was driven to learn by curiosity, paying attention to the conversations of the people around him. He then acknowledges that this is the best way to learn, rather than the sense of duty. Interesting that, as it comes from a Father and Doctor of the Church who is also a great saint.

We all agree. No one likes to be told what to do. Dictatorships are messy affairs.  Out of a sense of justice, we want to reserve that space from which we can decide whether to do something or other. I remember a time in high school, a boarding school, when we were expected to study from5 a.m. until6.20 a.m. at which point we would have breakfast. We took turns keeping watch, in case the teacher on duty came around to check, so that the others could continue with their sleep. We even brought bedcovers from the dorms to keep us warmer. Then we couldn’t bear it anymore. We complained. The administration was sympathetic. The morning prep time, as we called it, was chucked. Everyone rejoiced, not without the teacher on duty.

One day, I had to get something that I had left in the classroom the night before. I went to collect it just before breakfast. The classroom was almost full of people, studying. I looked at them, too dazed to utter a word. I couldn’t believe it. Then it occurred to me later on that they were studying because they wanted to, not because they were forced to do it. Exams could have driven them to do so, or even the fear that so and so is studying and I am not, so let me study in case she beats me in the exams. All that considered, I found it curious that they would brave the cold and the attraction of a warm bed at 5 a.m. to be poring over books when before they had had that opportunity with the morning study time and did not make use of it, but preferred to sleep. When it was no longer obligatory, they all want to study. Paradox? You better say so. The human person is that complex.

I wonder if they were enjoying it. Even though they were not enjoying it, were they really studying because they wanted to grasp the subject matter of the different subjects or were they moved by something else? How many of us actually like study? Don’t we all rejoice, I think even the teachers, when there is a holiday, and therefore no classes? Isn’t our only motivation to study being the exams, the nearer they are, the more feverish we cram bits of information into our heads, only to forget all about it the week after the exam? If we had a choice, would we dedicate ourselves to the search for knowledge? Don’t a great number of us regard study as a stage to pass through, and rejoice when it is over, at least formally? How far does what we do study go to making us better people? Ladies and gentlemen, the floor is open for your comments.

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