When I arrived at the 5Cs this year, I listened to Pomona College’s Dean of the College Janice Hudgings’s call to “take an ice axe to your mind,” in order to chip away at “the truths you take too quickly for granted and the values you uncritically accept.” More and more, I have come to see the ice axe less as a personal tool than as a means of global change, hacking away at the values and misconceptions that cause the world’s biggest civil and intellectual issues.
But I must wield a very dull ice axe because mine does not seem to break ground. I followed in the spirit of Dean Hudgings’s request to take the ice axe to “the personal … the intellectual … all around the greater LA basin.” I did what made me squirm with fear and anxiety, I enrolled in classes I would never have tried before, and I volunteered at an under-resourced charity. But how long will it be before I make a crack in the ice?
For the past few weeks, I have been entrapped by a mounting anxiety that I must change the world by myself. This is what society has come to expect from young adults; we are expected to crack the ice. Asking the question “How do I change the world?” is supposed to show that one has a sense of responsibility and moral spirit. But I see it as a desire to fulfill an unreasonable social pressure that has been hoisted on the backs of this generation. We are told to want enormous consequences as a result of our actions.
We are told to emulate the actions of Gandhi more than the work of an underpaid 501(c) employee, to emulate the oratory skills of Martin Luther King, Jr. more than the listening skills of a good friend. In both cases, the latter performs a type of slow and modest change not exalted or praised by society. We market change as sudden, but one person has never made a comprehensive worldwide transformation in one night. Moreover, most change comes from several groups of people working together in relatively miniature ways. Yet we believe changing the world is largely a solitary fight. It is time to uproot these delusions. Cracking the ice happens because, over time, a collection of people chip away bit by bit at the same block, each with a very dull ice axe in hand.