“Cela est bien, repondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin”
– Monsieur de Voltaire
Above is the final line of Voltaire’s Candide, a book I read just before coming to Princeton at the start of this academic year. Responding to the book’s optimistic philosopher Pangloss as he raves about how “this world is indeed the best of all possible worlds,” Candide responds that “this is well put, but we must cultivate our garden.” Although its meaning may well be nothing more than its literal meaning per se, I believe that by the end of the book Candide comes to the insight that the world does not progress just the way it is meant, nor that it is the best of all possible worlds. In this realization I believe that Candide refers to the garden as an analogue for his own life and destiny, meaning we are the harbingers of our own destiny. We must tend to ourselves and our life in order to flourish like a well kept garden.
Since coming to college I have been trying very hard to cultivate my garden in order to flourish at Princeton. Indeed that seems like a natural thing to do when the motto of the University, Dei sub numine viget, literally means under God’s power she flourishes. In this attempt to make sure not to waste a moment here I have been studying fortuitously; before fall break I would spend long nights perfecting papers and finishing problem sets meticulously. Furthermore I wrote posts for this blog in quick succession. I wasted no time getting to know people, hear their story and tell them mine – building excellent quality friendships. It was great fun to be active and constructive, constantly producing something, be it a wholesome friendship, a quality paper or a simple blog post.
Surely, you see the but coming from a mile a way. Indeed, however much fun it is to be creative and make ripples, there has to be balance, quite like in all other parts of life. In my case balance restored itself by my watching six seasons of a TV show (that I had already watched once before) in the span of around three weeks. Hardly validating my earlier post on being afraid of missing out here on campus. By committing to production, creativity and a regime of production I forgot to allow things to slow down, the result of course being my binging of White Collar (an excellent show I do feel the need to point out).
As the semester slowly comes to an end I am starting to fall into a more stable balance. The trick to it, I have found, is to read (or in my case listen to audio books) rather than to watch a show, when I need a healthy dose of passivity and consumption. Although the two words certainly carry a negative connotation of laziness and boredom, far from all consumption is bad. In finding material that is not tailor-made to reel the consumer in with an unexpected cliffhanger at the end of each forty minute episode, I have found it easier to stop when it is time to work and as such I have found better balance.
Let this be a warning to those of you like me. No matter how much one wants to create, produce and form ripples – one must also allow oneself to sit back and consume, rejuvenating in doing so. Hopefully this lesson, now learned for me, will make the coming years just a bit easier. More importantly though, I am fortunate already to have learned the lesson of realizing my mistakes, admitting to them, and learning from them – which is what this is all really about.