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On Wednesdays, We Wear Thoughtful

The way we feel about things is a reflection of our experiences with them, or what we’ve heard and seen of other’s experiences with them. Our interactions with our environments are constantly shaping opinions, ideas, and reactions, whether we realize it or not. The way I feel about Wednesday, for example, could be shaped by an unforgettable experience I had, that coincidentally, took place on a Wednesday. However, it isn’t always this direct. The human brain is marvelous; it takes in information from everywhere and interprets it without sparing a minute for an aware analysis. Our feelings are impacted by so much more than just our own, or other’s experiences. Opinions are shared on every forum – the print media, television, and the internet. Different perspectives on a situation can be accessed at the touch of screen. This also means that our thoughts can be influenced by almost anything.

In today’s day and age, pop culture plays an enormous role in our perceptions of the world. Video games, movies, television shows, books, and even music are largely influential. The discussion of these over the internet only makes them more and more commonly referred to, and therefore more familiar to us. Pop culture has developed a sense of humor of its own through these many references. Mashing lines from different books together, making puns with song lyrics, and impersonating a favorite character’s catchphrase in response to something, are only a few examples. All of this gives us a new, vast world to draw inspiration from.

Once upon a time, the word “Wednesday” would make me think of studying, a lack of sleep, or the desire for a break. At my current high school, during my junior year, everything would happen on Wednesdays: The first day of school, parent-teacher conferences, interesting visitors, chemistry practical classes, performances, sports games, and even tests. Wednesdays would bring with them a certain sense of anticipation, usually ranging from dread to excitement. Thanks to the pop culture influence, Wednesdays are so much more to me now. My favorite artist released an album on a Wednesday, and it was something my friends and I counted down the hours to. Wednesday doesn’t even have to be a day of the week, such as, for example, the morbid Wednesday Addams, of Addams Family fame.

In the movie ‘Mean Girls,” which is one that most high school students have found themselves watching at least once in their lives, the popular girls wore pink clothes on Wednesdays. This became a bit of a running joke among my friends, especially because popularity is relative in a school as small as ours, and our uniform is anything but pink. However, the line, “On Wednesdays, we wear pink,” is one that I won’t be able to forget. It is a constant reminder of the friends I have right now and the high school environment I’m in, and how in a matter of just a few months, I’ll be separated from both.

I decided to put off writing this essay until it actually was a Wednesday, just to see if it inspired me any differently, and I’d like to think it has. I don’t know if it’s possible to think about the answer to a question as vague and open-ended as “How do you feel about Wednesday?” without a lot of introspection, and the relieving of quite a few memories. A simple ‘mixed feelings’ is impossible to understand without the knowledge of everything a person has been through, in relation to the question asked.

What I do know today, Wednesday, is that from now on, I’m going to associate ‘Wednesday’ with one of the most unusual essays I’ve ever written.

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“Huddled Masses Yearning to Break Free”

Humanity has hit a new low when violence, hate crimes and terror attacks are no longer rare headlines, but regular occurrences. However, it is how the rest of the world chooses to react to these incidents that define us as humane, or not. The ongoing refugee crisis is one such incident that I believe is of great importance. This example is not something I have faced directly, but still feel strongly about.

Refugees, by definition, are people who have been forced to leave their countries in order to escape war or persecution, among other threats to life. By accepting refugees, nations are providing at least a temporary safe shelter for people who have nowhere else to go. It must be understood that they are trying to escape war-torn nations after facing extremism and violence, with no intention of perpetrating it themselves. Conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, and so many other places has driven citizens to the point of fleeing their homes on perilous journeys they might not even survive, all in the hope of a safer, better life somewhere else. It takes a serious lack of compassion and morality for a nation to deny these people the asylum they seek.

Yes, there is always the risk of malignant individuals posing as refugees to enter a nation and cause more trouble, but is it worth jeopardizing the lives of thousands of people seeking asylum from those very malignant individuals over this? Aside from this, there is always xenophobia and racism that influences judgments, if not the fear of drain on resources, or an undesirable impact on the economy. Refugees bring with them new cultures and lifestyles, which some fear may change civic identity.

The decision of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande to take in more refugees is even more significant, after the recent attacks including, but not limited to the incidents in Paris. An example has been set for other developed countries that can, and definitely should, be able to integrate refugees into their economies relatively painlessly, despite the potential cost.

Although this crisis is mostly faced by Europe due to its geographical location, it is one that all nations need to confront. The United Nations has appealed to the United States to uphold its tradition as a beacon to immigrants and admit Syrian refugees. The hesitation of many Governors to do so, as seen on the 19th of November, is not unfounded, given the events in Paris. However, calling for a pause in the vetting process to ensure that terrorists are not admitted would only exacerbate the problem by causing a massive delay, and setting an unfavorable example for US allies to follow.

As Susan Grant said, “We can either let our actions be guided by misunderstandings, fear and self-interest, or we can lead by knowledge, science and compassion. We can fear, or we can care.”

It is time we opened our hearts and borders to those who need all the support they can, in this dark time for humanity.

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On Ringtones

If I were invited to give a TEDtalk, it would be about the existence of a ‘One True Calling.’

A calling, by definition, is a strong urge towards a particular way of life or career, a vocation. People often refer to it as something they were “born to do”, and something they will always be able to succeed in. Finding this is akin to finding oneself and one’s place in the world. Somehow, I do not believe that such a thing exists for everyone.

With each phase in life, our passions change. Beliefs we had as children rarely make it to adolescence untouched, and opinions formed in high school are more than likely to change after exposure to the ‘real world’. Our priorities affect our decisions, and it is only natural for these to change at each stage of growth. We cannot predict the future, so we have to make the best decisions we can, based on our current environment. Some are fortunate enough to be able to pursue what they believe is their true calling for their entire lives. However, there are so many instances where people are forced to change their lives due to the circumstances they find themselves in.

Often, a true calling may not be feasible. Playing the tuba might be the one thing that gives you ultimate happiness, but unless you are the very best in your field, you won’t be able to sustain yourself, financially or emotionally. Some people may dedicate their life’s work to a cause, only to find, in the end, that it wasn’t worth it. The concept of the ‘mid-life crisis’ comes to mind here. You can chase your calling to the fullest, but eventually, a time will come when you reach a stagnant point. You have faced every hurdle, reached the peak, and cracked the code to success. All that’s left is to do the same thing over and over again, for the rest of your life. Upon reaching this stage, it is only natural for the initial enthusiasm to fizzle out, and for feelings of emptiness, boredom, even, to creep into one’s mind.

There are enough people, who, after an experience with a social issue, an accident, or other life-altering event, re-evaluate their priorities and realize that there are many things they have taken for granted. With the rapid advancement of technology, many conventional industries that require human involvement are being destroyed. Someone’s true calling may have been in hospitality services, but thanks to the internet and increasingly tech-savvy tourist destinations, this is no longer a career that holds much opportunity at an interpersonal level.

In all of these cases, the logical response is to explore other fields and causes, to find a new calling, or to find a new way to apply the original one. Sometimes, this requires skills that a person doesn’t already have. While it is never too late to learn more, it can be difficult to start afresh, owing to factors such as age, health, family, finances, and plain habit. The crucial choice between acquiring skills and interests that are highly specific to one sphere, or ones that are not as in-depth, but applicable to a large variety of areas, is one that is usually, often unknowingly made at a relatively young age.

As a high school student, I am expected to have at least a vague idea of what direction I want my life to take, career-wise. My interests, both academic and extra-curricular, play an important role in shaping my future. The Indian education system is such that towards the end of high school, one is to narrow down the courses they take, taking fewer, but highly specific and rigorous subject classes.

I have not, however, been able to find my “One True Calling.” My own interests are varied- I love English, reading and writing. I love Biology, nature, and the details of what exactly makes us alive. I love world politics, law, anthropology, and economics graphs. As a pure science student today, I did not appreciate the value of all of these subjects until they were removed from the curriculum. While science definitely interests me, I crave the ability to study other fields as well, and I know that I am not the only one who feels this way.

Conventionally, a calling is associated with a single, independent sphere. In today’s dynamic world, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There are many new careers that involve the applications of more than one conventionally independent field of study, like astrobiology, musical healing, and computational life sciences, to name a few.

I’ll admit that it figuring out what exactly I wanted took a lot longer than it may for most, but even if I don’t have one set field or aim, I’ve done justice to myself. Maybe someone’s true calling is the pursuit of knowledge, which is limitless. Maybe you don’t actually need to ‘find yourself’ to succeed. Maybe all you need to do is do everything. Being the “jack-of-all trades” is frequently associated with the words “master of none”, but the entire saying “But still far better than the master of one,” is frequently forgotten.

Finally, I’d like to remind my audience not to discount the importance of the unconventional. The lines between fields of study are blurring as the world develops, and the demand for people educated in more than one sphere is definitely on the rise. Besides, a well-rounded personality will be able to apply their skills to a multitude of careers, and will have a unique point of view on issues that the world faces today. Whether you have one calling or seven, acting upon your interests will surely give anyone a lot to contribute to society.