During a 1962 press conference, President John F. Kennedy commented on the plight of American reservists who continued to be held on active duty after the Berlin Crisis had subsided. At one point, he noted: “Life is unfair.” Tragically, just one year later, on November 22, 1963, this young American president was gone. Americans will forever remember his death as a tragic example of unfairness.
In my classroom, when the topic turns to fairness, I enjoy asking students questions like these:
Is it fair that one of you has the ability to become a Nobel Prize winner while another does not? Is it fair that one of you has been gifted with an aptitude in science while another easily masters languages? Is it fair that one of you is a “trust baby” while another must gut out the “9 to 5” over a lifetime? Is it fair that my own follicly-challenged condition be continually and publicly exposed against those with vast expanses of blonde, brown, salt and pepper?
After interesting discussion, we agree that individuals have been provided with unique advantages (e.g., natural aptitude, skills, family wealth) that will help determine their earthly outcomes (e.g., career, income, social status, etc.). In the end, however, as the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30) teaches, much will depend upon what we’ve done with the gifts we’ve been given. Hence, with the passage of time, both winners and losers will emerge.
Winning and Losing
On college campuses, it could once be said that the winner was diversity of thought. Why? Because the foremost mission of colleges was to assemble a diverse faculty whereby students would be exposed to opposing views, learn to think, and provided room to develop a deeper understanding of the important issues that would impact their lives. After their studies, they received not just a diploma, but more importantly, an education.
Today, however, rather than assembling a diverse group of thinkers, an anti-intellectual monolith has been constructed. Under this system, so-called “enlightened” faculty tell it “like it is.” But really, it is “the way they see it.” The result? On issue after issue, diversity of opinion has been stamped out. Regarding marriage, there is one way. Regarding abortion, there is one way. Regarding political thought, there is one way. Regarding economic policy, there is again—one way.
So much for diversity.
Given all this, Merriam-Webster’s definition of a monolith seems to define a majority of our colleges: cast as a single piece, consisting of or constituting a single unit, and formed or composed of material without joints or seams. On our college campuses, students have been taught that if they oppose—through reason—the monolithic doctrine that has been spewed at them, there will be consequences and labels affixed upon them. After all, who wants to be known as a bigot, misogynist, racist, homophobe, xenophobe, or Islamaphobe?
Sadly, college students have been taught that there is one way or the highway. After having learned that there exists but a single pathway on every issue, are we surprised that these students believe that their worldview will always win? In a column following the 2016 presidential election, Trump and College Chaos, Professor Walter E. Williams wrote:
Let’s begin by examining the responses to his win, not only among our wet-behind-the-ears college students, many of whom act like kindergarteners, but also among college professors and administrators. The University of Michigan’s distressed students were provided with Play-Doh and coloring books, as they sought comfort and distraction…Cornell University held a campus-wide “cry-in,” with officials handing out tissues and hot chocolate…The University of Pennsylvania hosted a post-election ‘Breathing Space’ for students stressed out by election results that included cuddling with cats and a puppy, coloring and crafting, and snacks such as tea and chocolate…The University of Kansas reminded its stressed-out students that therapy dogs, a regular campus feature, were available….At Columbia University and its sister college, Barnard, students petitioned their professors to cancel classes and postpone exams because they were fearful for their lives and they couldn’t take an exam while crying…At Yale, it was reported that students were reeling and exhibited “teary eyes, bowed heads and cries of disbelief” and had the opportunity to participate in a post-election group primal scream “to express their frustration productively.”
Preparation for life?
In light of all this, I wonder how prepared these students are for life? To date, I’ve had the opportunity to vote in 11 U.S. presidential elections and have amassed a win-loss record of 6-5. Although I’ve been less than elated when my candidate(s) have lost, I am pleased to note that not once did I display infantile behavior—over an election!
For this, I am grateful to family, friends, priests, and professors who prepared me for life— and the unfairness of it all. Especially death. This November, it will have been eighteen years since my wife and I buried our infant son. And for the Kennedy family, this November will mark sixty years since his tragic assassination.
Regarding his impending death, Apple founder Steve Jobs reflected:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Today, we are wise to recall President Kennedy’s words spoken many years ago that “Life is unfair.” But, as the saints have reminded us, life has been given us—to live! In doing so, may we learn and mature and place the events of our lives into proper perspective.