There were some crazy shooting and beating incidents happened in the past few weeks, and we have seen how our communities are trying to fight together to stop the hatred and racism. Unsurprisingly, my students asked me for my comments regarding these tragedies. Although it is not my personal interests to dive into these incidents, let alone commenting on them, and I do support the effort of our communities to stop these misbehaviors in the future, I would like to share some thoughts for my students from perspectives of being a teacher and student (used-to-be). Opinions are my own, and I will not participate in any further discussion. But feel free to leave a comment if you think needed.
1. Be judgemental
Like it nor not, any information we are getting anywhere could be biased, whether it’s online information or sth written down on paper. Unfortunately, people seem to forget this and treat “media” as “facts.” But are they? If you still remember the discussion we had earlier on “Trusted Computing Base” (TCB), ask yourself – are any media within your TCB? If they are trusted, why? I hope you will enjoy the process of reflective thinking and reasoning.
So what’s the point here? All news is fake, and we could not trust any news? Apparently not. Since “news” is still the major source of our real-time information, we probably will have to “trust” them to a certain extent. But this does not necessarily mean that “news” is trustworthy, and it could be far away from “facts.” IMO, the most important thing everyone should learn from a major like Computer Science should be the critical thinking like a scientist. Whenever you see a piece of “news,” ask yourself – what is the “fact” there and what are the subjective speculations that the makers try to deliver explicitly or implicitly.
Unfortunately, it is not an easy process to distinguish the “fact” from other parts of “news,” and it could be a life-long learning experience. But I think it is worth all the efforts and a nice habit to have if you hope to get close to the “truth” of the world. If “news” => “action”, a better causal chain might be “news” => “facts” => “action”. Be judgemental and think independently.
2. Protect yourself
No matter where we are, there will be some crazy people around. I have lived in Oregon and Florida, and I have been living in Indiana for almost 2 years now. A “fun” fact is I was harassed by different people in all these three states. My default policy against these harassements is always to go away as far as I could. Sounds like a “coward”? Maybe, but my “counter-argument” is that “I have more important things to do than arguing with these people,” such as “getting home safely,” “walking our dog every evening,” and “teaching my class on time.”
Remember – we cannot fix people. Haters are gonna hate no matter what. Life is too short to be wasted on “teaching a lesson” for people who cannot be taught with the risk of getting ourselves into injuries. Even better, try to avoid any potential risks if possible. I remember attending a conference in Baltimore, and our taxi driver warned us about places that we do not want to visit. Unfortunately, we did end up staying in a bar within a dangerous area. But we did call the taxi again and waited for the taxi to show up in front of the bar before we left for the hotel. Looking back, we probably should not have been to the bar in the first place.
In short, protect yourself. Avoid any potential risks if possible and run away as soon as possible without any confrontation because your safety triumphs over everything else.
3. Be kind
If you have not seen the commencement speech from Victor Wooten (my favorite bass player in the world, although I do not play bass at all) in 2016, please check it out. His mother asked the young Victor what the world needs, e.g., another good musician? The answer is good people. What the world needs are good people!
Just be kind, to your family, friends, classmates, strangers, animals, and so on so forth. It is sometimes surprising to realize how simple it is to make us “human” and how often we forget how to behave like “human.” The other day, while I was walking our dog (his name is Fubao, in case you are interested), I found a dying raccoon in the forest (actually, Fubao found it first). I tried all the numbers I could find that might save the poor thing, but none of them worked due to off-hours. At last, I called 911. The lady on the other end told me that animals are out of their scope. When I told her that it is heartbreaking to see an animal’s suffering and there is nothing I could do to help, she said, “This is life, and you have to deal with it.”
There is nothing wrong with her response, and I know she meant well to comfort me. Meanwhile, I started to realize how we, as human beings, could “easily” get used to “things,” which might not be good or kind and we probably should not have “get used to” in the first place. If you apply “Be judgemental” to “routines” (some) people take for granted, you might be shocked to see how often we are not “kind” in the name of “safety,” “tradition,” “race,” “religion,” or whatever. Again, there is nothing wrong with being self-protective, and we need to protect ourselves for sure. At the same time, please do not forget your kindness and give a hand if you could.
If possible, please don’t get worn out “so easily” by the “society.” Stay kind.
4. Learn something
Regardless of skin colors or religions, as human beings, we are curious about the meaning of our lives and even our next lives. When I was a teenager, I used to write down “The meaning of my life” whenever I started to drift away from classes (sounds weirdo?) While I do appreciate the wisdom of tautology, e.g., the meaning of life is to explore the meaning of life, I hit my first “life crisis” during my undergrad when I was lost and had no idea why I even went to college or what I should do in these 4 years.
While I seemed to find my “direction” by playing heavy metals, there was always a “dark cloud” somewhere in my sky bothering me now and then. At the beginning of sophomore, a professor gave a talk, and I could not even recall how I managed to stay there or what the talk was about. He said, “If you have no idea what to do, stay in the library and learn something.” I remember everyone laughed (including myself) since my roommates were busy with “Counter Strike” and I was busy with “Metallica.” “What a douche!” I laughed.
What’s the rest of the story? I am now writing a blog post trying to convince my students to learn something when they are lost or have no idea what to do, and I know someone will laugh at me. What about “the meaning of my life”? I am still clueless. However, I now know that I will get it sooner or later as long as I keep moving forward. There is no dark cloud in my sky anymore.