Voltaire, Gardens and Making Ripples

“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.

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2 Comments

  1. Vad gjorde att du valde att söka till skolor i USA istället för t.ex. England? Rent utbildningsmässigt har jag uppfattningen att skillnaden mellan t.ex. Princeton och Oxford är minimal.

    Jag har även hört mycket positivt om din hemsida, värdet av att marknadsföra sig själv, att visa framfötterna. Framförallt “book reviews” har påpekats; när jag läst på din hemsida så är det inlägg på både engelska och svenska, och övergången verkar ha varit när du flyttade till USA. All litteratur är dock recenserad på engelska.
    Hur tänkte du med vilket språk du skrev på? Började du skriva om det du läst tidigt och skrev du det alltid på engelska för att lättare visa på ditt akademiska intresse för universiteten?

    Sist men inte minst, hur är det att studera allt på engelska nu? Kände du dig väl förberedd? Är det extra utmanande?

    • Martin,

      Really happy to hear that you’re considering going abroad to study. First off, although you may already know this, it is a ton of work to apply abroad, but with a pay off that is absolutely without a doubt worth it. So if you’re still in the considering phase, I’d recommend sitting down and decide whether or not to really commit – and then stick to your choice. As for your questions:

      US v UK:
      It’s funny that you should ask this, because I actually applied to both and ended up going to Princeton because I didn’t get in to neither Cambridge nor St. Andrews. This was mostly due to the fact that my record (broad with a lot of extracurricular stuff in contrast to narrow focus with extremely good academic records) fit American schools better. If you’re applying the the US I’d recommend going for the UK as well because the work to apply is negligible compared to the US application. Notably, St. Andrews is completely free for Swedes, so at least apply there. As for the level of education they are very similar. The biggest difference is that in the UK you would continue with a narrow approach (basically just Computer Science courses in my case) whereas in the US I am taking courses drawing, philosophy and architecture as well – simply because I can and want to.

      The website was basically made solely in order to make me look good as I applied to the US, but turned into so much more. I decided to write in swedish at first because I was writing about local happenings and issues. No one who doesn’t read swedish would have been interested in HD or ProCivitas anyway. When I moved to the US I realized my target audience became a lot broader, and so I switched to english.

      If you feel like you need to practice your english I’d recommend going at it with english at once, especially if you decide to write about, say, cooking or some sport. This would be interesting for all kinds of people to read and so it would make sense to write about it in english. If you’re writing about Helsingborg happenings, swedish would make more sense. I began with the book reviews around the same time I went to America which is why they’re all written in english (also target audience). I’d definitely recommend starting with the book reviews as quickly as possible though – I certainly wish I did.

      If you were able to follow all of the above, and of course this very sentence, you’ll be absolutely fine studying in english. Honestly, I believe it’s a non-issue entirely. When here, you’ll pick up everything that might be missing right now and become properly bilingual in no time.

      Skicka gärna följdfrågor om du har några! Lycka till.

      Sten

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