Andrew in Wonderland

Everyone needs a metric to measure if they are overworking. Two weeks ago, I realized mine was when I don’t have time to enliven a lifesize cardboard cutout of Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter.

It was 12am and my two friends just entered my room on a Thursday night with beautiful weather that seduced overwhelmed and procrastinating students to come outside. We had a lot of energy, and none of us had any pressing deadlines coming up. Scratch that. We had a lot of energy, because none of us had any pressing deadlines. In fact, it was a small miracle that my friends and I could all find time to be together in the first place. This hangout night was in the pipeline for quite some time and finally it came to fruition, so we were going to make the best of it.

Inviting my friends into my dorm room, they immediately saw the large cardboard cutouts of Alice and Wonderland characters that I had scavenged from last week’s East Campus Council’s Alice and Wonderland themed party. I recounted how, earlier that week, my residents had appreciated going door to door pranking their Jarvis hallmates by knocking on a door and leaving only a super creepy life-size cutout of the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter or a giant mushroom to answer. Well enjoyed may not be the best word to use for everyone (particularly for the person who punched the Queen of Hearts), but for us (the ones doing the pranking) it certainly was.

Since that night, these cutouts resorted to their original lifelessness. They were Flat Stanleys waiting for the next energizing event to resurrect them. I described this to my two friends who consequentially, as if there were a string that attached the intangible ideas that lingered in the depths of our minds, simultaneously exclaimed “so, let’s bring them to life again.”

Our hangout night turned into a down-the-rabbit-hole adventure around East Campus. My two friends and I formed a sui generis mobile acting troupe in which I enacted the Mad Hatter cardboard cutout who was a loyal servant to the Queen of Hearts (played by another friend) who had recently lost her mushroom plant (played by the third friend). We crafted a skit together, quickly memorized our lines and prepared for the most spectacular piece of theatrical improvisation the world has ever seen.

Our first stop: Blackwell Common Room. We entered and found a few first years stressed and taking a break from what appeared to be mounds of work. Announcing our entrance with absolute seriousness, we performed our five-minute skit, all while seeing the audience’s smiles that warmly greeted our ridiculousness. The culture of overwork that permeated Blackwell dorm was lifted for those five minutes. Our performance played a role similar to that of a Harry Potter patronus fighting off the Dementor of overwork.

Through witnessing the smiles of our audience members, I recognized the true measurement to overwork: overworking is when I don’t have time to do ridiculous things with friends; when I don’t have time to make others happy. And, I also realized that although overworking has its time and place (it is inherently super productive), too much overwork overpowers wellbeing, and, once wellbeing is overpowered, authenticity becomes a concept only present in Wonderland. Perhaps one’s goal ought to be to find a little of their Wonderland each day, I figured.

After no less than two hours of performances, the Wonderland Acting Troupe retired, and the cardboard cutouts lied lifeless again on my dorm floor awaiting revival once again. My friends left, taking nothing with them except unforgettable memories. I was ready to go to bed satisfied, but I heard a knock on my door. Confused, I opened the door to find three residents eagerly asking to borrow the characters that lied flatly on my floor. Feeling immensely prideful for inspiring such hooliganry I eagerly handed them off on the condition that they update me on their successes…

Two weeks later, on my birthday, I received such updates.

I had invited friends to celebrate, and among these friends were the members of the Troupe and the recipients of the wonderful Wonderland cutouts. My Troupe friends and I were talking when a group of my residents carrying the cutouts facedown entered the celebration. They quickly amassed all of the attention in the room and announced themselves… I expected them to have prepared a skit of their own, but what they had actually done was far better.

Turning the cutouts around, everyone burst out laughing. My residents had taken pictures of my face (from when I had braces!) and fixated them on the cardboard cutout faces. They had one-upped my ridiculousness and fully embraced the value of a good laugh among a Duke Blue sea of seriousness.

From that point, these cutouts were eternally anthropomorphized into a living reminder of the value of a smile. We all need to make time to smile. And, to this day, these symbols look out of my Jarvis window reminding unsuspecting people passing by to not take life too seriously…

With the help of my friends and some cardboard, I have created my own little joyful Wonderland. It is a place that exists outside of the five senses. It can only be experienced with the sixth sense: a sense of humor. And what makes the sixth sense so beautiful is that it is enhanced by bringing others along. I have created a (not-exactly-Gothic) Wonderland and have shared it with friends, and through that sharing, I have enhanced my Wonderland.

Andrew in Wonderland




The Third Rule

Before I left for college, my grandfather gave me three rules to follow:

  1. Never fight over a woman (the right woman won’t let you fight over her)
  2. Don’t become brainwashed (don’t lose pragmatism among a sea of idealism), and
  3. When in Rome do as the Romans (don’t state your own opinion or identity if it’s different from the prevailing one; it’s not worth it, just blend in).

I repeated these rules to myself as my plane took off from the cool JFK airport and once again as it landed in humid RDU, making sure I wouldn’t forget. It has been a year and a half since I started my Duke journey. In that time, I managed to not fight over a woman and maintained an undying sense of pragmatism alongside an ever-growing idealism. But, although I tried, I couldn’t “be Roman,” sorry grandpa.

It’s not that I disregarded the third rule the moment my foot reached my freshman dorm, rather it was only within the past few months that I began to take off my figurative pileus[1] and reveal the figurative yarmulke[2] that always lied beneath…

No that’s not completely true. I never had the courage to willingly “take off” my pileus, knowing I’d be so many people’s “first Jew.” I didn’t want to be thought of as “one of those rich people who’s really good with money” (a stereotype that I had been associated with a surprising amount since revealing my Jewish identity at Duke). Rather, there was one moment at Duke that brought forth a “spirited wind” strong enough to “knock off” my pileus. And, since then, I have had the courage to not put the pileus back on.

It was a sunny afternoon when the news reached me and the Duke Jewish group chat exploded. First with questions, then with concerns and finally with pictures of the huge, blood-red swastika that desecrated the gold colored mural we had painted commemorating those who were murdered during the Pittsburgh shooting weeks before. Robert Frost famously wrote “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” In this moment, I understood what he meant. The beauty that was so delicately crafted was destroyed by another act of hate on campus that directly targeted my community and by extension that directly targeted me.

Being on the Jewish Student Union Executive Board, the act created a crisis that required each board member’s level-headed response. During our board meeting, the conversation centered around “how we could best represent the needs of our Jewish friends and peers amid the inundation of emails and phone calls from concerned parents and newspaper articles that repeatedly highlighted the desecration.” However, all I could think about was how could this happen on my campus, and how can I make sure something like this never happens again?

In that moment, I wasn’t sure of the answer, but I did know that hiding my Jewish identity certainly wasn’t it, and, I recognized that in the times when my community hurt the most, it is crucial to show solidarity. Instead of hate becoming a suppressor, hate became my catalyst. My figurative pileus was blown off my head, and I have no intention of ever putting it on again, sorry (again) grandpa.

Since then, I have been on a mission to spread awareness about Antisemitism and prevent acts of hate on campus. I have begun an independent research study focusing on Antisemitism on college campuses that will culminate in policy recommendations. I have advocated for campus wide events and speakers educating people on Antisemitism. I have worked on a taskforce with peers, Professors and Duke Administrators to create a culture of intersectionality among various minorities on campus… And, I have gone from being Jewish only around other Jews, to being proudly Jewish wherever I am.

So, grandpa, while I won’t fight over a woman and I won’t become brainwashed, I can never “be Roman.” Why would I want to take after a now fallen civilization, when instead I could proudly be part of a people that have thrived for thousands of years despite countless acts of hate? Sure, it might be easier, but convivence doesn’t build resilience. Through challenging my own beliefs, I have learned the power of identity, and I look forward to exploring it further as I progress along my college journey.

[1] A pileus is a hat that was worn in Ancient Greece and later in Ancient Rome

[2] A yarmulke is a religious skullcap worn by Jewish people

In Defense of History

“We need to learn from several centuries of genocides, epidemics, enslavements, migrations and the like if we want to improve as a species. But I also think it’s more than that. Done right – accessible in writing and focused on those who are often unseen – history can be the best, most accessible record of humanity.” – Barry Yeoman, Durham Independent Journalist

Kenan disappointing my parents“History is important because it explains where we come from,” Ms. Leona Tate answered my question with. Just over 50 years earlier, she had been one of the four Black girls to desegregate New Orleans’ public schools. She had made the history that we study today, and by doing so, as a first-grader, she took part in shaping her own explanation from where she came…

I recently declared my second major as History. And, while I am proud to call myself an economics-history double major (with the signature Kenan ethics certificate of course), I was apprehensive to share my decision with my family. In reality, I felt that the Kenan in the, “Kenan | disappointing my parents” t-shirt [1] could very well be replaced with History. I wasn’t sure if my family would support history as a major, because there are no direct career prospects (at least far fewer than in other, more practical, majors). I am lucky that my family is extremely supportive; however, before telling my family about my decision, I thought it worthwhile to fully understand the value of history and why it’s worth pursuing. Accordingly, I spent my Spring Break on a quest to defend history.

My friend and I rolled up to our Air B&B in Badin, North Carolina after a car ride through the countryside. As we parked our Enterprise rental car, the house owner — a middle aged, African-American woman whose gave off an aura of kindness — opened the front door and invited us inside. Leaving the car, we wearily unpacked our bags and entered. The house was humble: wooden walls, pictures of family, furniture with designs dating back to the early 90’s.  Although we were both tired from our travels, my friend and I wanted to learn more about the person we were staying with and about Badin, North Carolina.

“So, what’s it like in Badin?” my friend asked the owner, who was eager to answer. She explained that she had grown up in Badin, that her great uncle had built the house and that Badin’s tranquility is something she treasures. The conversation took off from there. She made mention of Badin’s French roots, its segregated past, and lasting environmental and racial legacy. She then mentioned how the old aluminum plant, which was the city’s major employer, was found responsible of significant environmental injustice, and had to pay reparations after losing a lawsuit. Eventually, it decided to shut down, and set up shop in a less troublesome place, leaving many Badin residents unemployed. She explained that now Badin is mostly an aging community, with few young folk coming in because of the lack of employment. She was so in touch with her community’s history that I was compelled to ask her why she thought history was so important, to which she responded “because it helps us know where we come from…”.

We went to bed, and, I pondered her response. I considered how her understanding of history’s importance shapes how she views the present and her place within it. I began to reflect. Why do I think history is important? What role do narratives play in shaping identity?

The next day, my friend and I walked into a small shop in downtown Badin. Another woman — this one strong-spirited, White and only slightly older than the woman we were staying with — approached us in full Carolina gear and introduced herself. We quickly learned that she had grown up in Badin “where everyone would look out for each other,” and, after a career elsewhere, she returned to the humble town to run her father’s shop. Similar to our Air B&B host, the store owner explained how Badin was a former French town, and how there used to be a large aluminum plant that closed down, leaving many unemployed. I asked why it had closed down, expecting to hear about environmental injustice, but she explained that no one knew exactly why. She then mentioned that it could have been because there was a cheaper place to manufacture abroad, perhaps in Mexico. When I asked about environmental harm the plant caused, she explained that “sure there was harm, but they did the best they could knowing what they knew at the time.” It was fascinating to juxtapose this with the narrative I had heard the night before.

My friend piped in and asked her about growing up in Badin. She expressed that she had grown up in segregated Badin, and was in high school when schools were desegregated; however, she clarified that her family was working class, “not those county club folks, nope, we were their caddys.” We spent nearly two hours talking to her in her shop before we decided it was time for our hike. But before we left, I asked the store owner why she thought history was important, to which she responded “because it makes sure we learn from our past.”

On our hike, my friend and I spoke about the differences in the two ladies’ recounting of Badin’s history. Both had a different understanding of the role of the aluminum plant and segregation in Badin’s past. And, the framing of these narratives significantly altered their implications today. We tried to consider what led to these differences. The aluminum plant was a major part of town life, and there were fundamentally different understandings of the role it played, whether the plant’s actions were justified and why it eventually shutdown. I wondered how their two understandings could be reconciled. And, if a small town of less than 2,000 people could have such different understanding of their past, what implications that had for the rest of world.

Driving back to Duke from Badin, all I found myself reasking: Why do I think history is important? What roles do narratives have in shaping identity? And, how can different narratives of history be reconciled?

The next day, I found myself on a plane to New Orleans with Kenan’s Living Learning Community. Our trip focus: environmental and racial justice in New Orleans. Throughout the trip, we spoke with accomplished figures ranging from activists and city councilmen, to a professor specializing in New Orleans’ architectural history, to the current Rabbi of a New Orleanian Jewish congregation founded in the 1840s, to the Ms. Leona Tate (quoted above), to countless strongly opinionated Uber drivers. I made sure to ask each of them questions about why they thought history was important and how history shapes contemporary New Orleans. Each gave a similar, but slightly different answer. It reminded me of Badin again. I was still unsure why I thought history was important, what role narratives play in shaping identity and how to reconcile different histories. 

With these questions still on my mind, I entered into our group debrief. We sat as a group and reflected on what we found worthwhile or noteworthy from the day. Typically, I sit quiet during these kinds of moments, but this time I felt compelled to share what was on my mind…

“We heard from people that history is ‘how we orient ourselves,’ ‘how we learn from our mistakes’ and ‘a tool for change,’ but how do you suppose people make sense of contrasting narratives of history, narratives that are fundamentally different?” The room went quieter than Badin, North Carolina in the middle of a cold winter night.

And then someone responded, everyone has their own recounting of a story, but that is just what history is — a collection of stories. As long as we make room for both the told and untold narratives, and don’t deny anyone — save extremists — the legitimacy of their history, their version of the story, we can begin to reconcile very different understandings of a shared past. It is through nuance, and individual relationships that this reconciliation can begin… There is no wisdom in the public square.

That last part stuck with me most: “there is no wisdom in the public square.” That was to say that discourse with a large audience makes nuance difficult to find, and, seeking these nuances is not what most media does today. To deny complete legitimacy to one side is dangerous. Doing so is a catalyst to unhealthy polarization. It’s easy to fall victim to the wisdom-less public square, but we must rise above that temptation. Understanding multiple narratives of history gives people the power to overcome ignorant polarization. The wisdom of the public square lies within its history.

I recalled my earlier conversation with Ms. Tate. She was right. History does explain where we come from. And, with the proper interpretation, readiness to listen to multiple narratives and a healthy rebellious spirit, history is a tool we can use to understand our identities in the present and shape our futures. History was used to initially keep Ms. Tate in segregated schools, and now history is being used to keep Ms. Tate’s grandchildren in de-segregated schools. I found the answers to my questions.

As I leave New Orleans, refreshed from a Spring Break, I am ready to return home and excited to explain to my family that History is my second major. I am studying a field that everyone can relate to, a field that although seems distant, impacts daily life, and a field that can polarize people as quickly as it can build intersectional bridges between entire communities. From studying History and Herstory one understands Ourstory, and ultimately know how to uplift and progress toward a better world…

Eagerly entering my house after a long week in New Orleans, I shout out “Mom, Dad, Makayla… I am a history major!” And then they all come down smiling and congratulating me. No justification needed, no questions asked…  Okay that’s not exactly what happened, but it’s good to stay idealistic!

What actually happened was as I told my family about my historical decision, and they, like expected, were supportive. However, I could tell they were thinking why history deep down. To help qualm their apprehension, I explained to them what I discovered over Spring Break about history, concluding my sales pitch by mentioning that I am still an economics major. Finally, I could tell that they were comfortable with my decision.

I am now back at Duke and still unsure how much of a role my justification, versus the fact that I was still studying economics played in ultimately getting their approval. I don’t think I will ever know, and, I am not convinced it is important to know. Rather, I am confident that my decision is grounded in logic, feels right, is based in my impassioned curiosity and combines pragmatism with idealism. And, for those reasons, I am confident I am making the right choice.

[1] Each year the Kenan Institute for Ethics produces a satirical “major declaration” t-shirt for students who “declared” they are studying ethics or the sorts (note: there is no ethics major, just a certificate, making the shirt even more satirical). One year the shirt featured this expression. Just like in any good satire, there lies a piece of truth under the humor. While it’s taken for granted that professors are experts in their field, it is refreshing to know Kenan professors and staff are experts in their fields with a good sense of humor.

The One Percent


Dear Professors,

I am writing to you both today in response to a question I posed to you both this past summer. “What should one aspire to become?” I recall the moment vividly when you had both thrown the question back on me, challenging me to answer my own impossible question. What a luxury it must be to be a professor, I thought at the time. I would never have to answer any difficult questions, but rather could throw them back at my students to figure out for themselves. Of course, I never said that, but I was certainly thinking it. Today I write to you both to thank you for throwing the question back on me. I now realize that in doing so lied the answer…

Professors, I have been an active member of your Lab since my first semester at Duke. At first, I admittedly was surprised by the organized chaos that realistically would better be called unorganized chaos that comes with transporting hundreds of local refugees to and from campus each Tuesday for two hours. Yet, a year and a half later, I find that the chaos has only grown, and I have grown with it.

My first memory in the Lab was at the welcome back BBQ which featured great food, fancy music, and a number of children and young adults playing soccer refereed by the typical Kenan Chaos. Little did I know that from this chaos would stem my most informative relationship at Duke which has most recently informed the answer to the question I posed to you both… Little did I know that in this chaos, I would meet Faustin. Although at the BBQ our interaction was brief, it was the start to an amazing mentorship that your Lab has since incubated.

It was a week later that I came back to the Lab for round two of Kenan Chaos and again found myself clicking with Faustin as we played keep-it-up for an hour straight. Later that evening, I learned that he would be my mentee. As you both knew, Faustin and I were the same age, yet because of his time in a refugee camp he was a junior in high school, while I was a freshman in college. But, at the time, all I had known about Faustin was that he was was only in the US for a year and a half, and still learning English and that he was a talented keep-it-up player.

I remember wondering why you wouldn’t pair Faustin with someone older and wiser, but I stayed quiet again, keeping my thoughts to myself. It is now three semesters later, and I am still discovering the wisdom behind such decision.  Perspective and hindsight play funny tricks on people.

You both are aware of how Faustin and my relationship has developed since its inception, so I will not indulge in these details. I will however bring to your attention the struggles Faustin and I faced when refining English skills, preparing for the ACT exam, and writing college applications. I recall the support you gave Faustin through investing in educational materials, writing letters of recommendation on his behalf and requesting multiple meetings with the superintendent of Durham Public Schools to advocate on his behalf. I can only hope to be so passionate about my future career that I can remain motivated through the infinite unforeseen difficulties faced in getting Faustin the accommodations he is entitled to on the ACT.

And yet, despite these difficulties, despite the long conversations, despite the arduous background research, despite the large amount of time invested in someone else’s success, you did not give up. Faustin got his accommodations, and submitted well-crafted college applications on time…

After two months of apprehension, this past week Faustin heard back from his first University. I received the news via a WhatsApp picture, and it was clear; at last Faustin had been accepted into college. Although he is still unsure whether he will attend because of financial reasons, when I saw him later that day he had a certain look in his eye, a look that I remember having when I had been accepted to Duke, a look that my father gets when he talks about his business he created from scratch, a look that I saw in both of your eyes when you shared how parts of your upbringing shaped you into who you are today. It is a look of pride. A look of accomplishment. A look of fulfillment. It is a look that says, I have made it to the one percent of where I come from; I am living life to the fullest.

In that moment, I realized how impactful that acceptance was on Faustin. Within his 19 years he had went from living in a refugee camp, that has a resettlement rate of about one percent, to getting accepted into an American University. The moment he received his acceptance, what seemed his wildest fantasies years ago became tangible, and became so because of his own merit. Faustin had aspired and he had become.

Herein lied the answer to my question that I posed you both over the summer: one aught to aspire to become the one percent of where they are from. That is to say, one ought to dream big and chase after those dreams, but never forget to appreciate the journey and make the best of his or her current situation.

I am told that experiential learning is the new ideal in University settings. In fact, it is one of the many things that Duke Admissions stresses to prospective students. I can now testify to its efficacy, for it is only though experiences like the one I was lucky enough to have that one acquires wisdom. And, wisdom is what answers even the toughest of life’s questions. While I still don’t know exactly what I ought to be, I am now a step closer, and I owe much of that to you. I am looking forward to what the future holds.

With Much Appreciation,

Andrew Carlins

A Miracle Moment

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Warm weather makes me irrationally happy, especially when exists in the middle of February sandwiched in by days below freezing, much like the unexpected, tranquil eye of the four-month long Winter storm. Having 8:30am class four days a week, taking six credits, and being a new RA, while super conducive to learning and developing a broad range of what Duke and life has to offer, is not nearly as conductance to sleep and personal wellness. I am fortunate enough to love at least most of what I do. I am also lucky be able to take classes, commit to work and live in places that not only value and personal reflection and mindfulness, but teach affective ways to do it. Accordingly, during any day, I make time for myself. Time to decompress, time to reflect, time to feel fulfilled. Time today was spent in the Duke Gardens.

The sun, still shining, had waned in strength just enough to allow the twenty or so children running around with a soccer ball fruitlessly trying to captivate the attention of the dog sitting loyally by its owner to do so without breaking much of a sweat. The open field full of luscious green grass that kindly, and indiscriminately invites Duke students and Durham residents, adults and children, animals and flowers, old memories and new times to share the present moment. It is liberating. Barriers that exits daily, either systemic, idiosyncratic, geographic, linguistic, or demographic are overcome in this open field, a place that views all as equal and impedes upon none. Whatever someone takes from this moment only adds to what they give and what is available for others to take with them. In moments like these miracles occur. Despite the miracle being small and short (lasting a mere few seconds), they occur. I am a witness.

My miracle moment today lasted a mere twenty minutes, but within those few minutes came a lifetime of revelation. As I observed the “game” of soccer in front of me, I thought of a quotation from Eric Schrode “there is a naivety in youth that is incredibly beautiful.” How is it that children, far less learned and wise and discerning than their adult parents, embrace life with an unparalleled energy, an energy they are willing to share with others equally? This paradox is fascinating especially bearing in mind that the further I go in education, the more I learn and can appreciate the value of diversity and the universality of certain characteristics of humanity. I suppose young-adults and adults need to take a step further than appreciating though, we need to fully embrace. I sat with my thoughts for a minute continuing to observe the field and its children. It is the combination of the open field and energetic children that creates a powerful challenge to any societally structured hierarchy. All the children cared about was where the soccer ball was kicked (not who kicked it), and how far away they were from the dog (despite it still showing the children little concern) …

 I looked down at my phone, realized how much time had past, and was flooded by reality. I had a meeting to attend, so I quickly gathered my belongings and prepared to leave my paradise.

Arriving just on time, I switched into “business mode” as the meeting was focused on start-up consulting… on adding value to new businesses. While I find these conversations intriguing, I couldn’t help but ponder what the value of my time in the Gardens was. When I’m at work, my time has a clear value, when I am consulting start-ups, I am adding value to the world; however, when I am quietly reflecting in the gardens, what value-add am I contributing? From a traditional economic, GDP-based perspective, my time in the Gardens was worthless. In fact, from looking at the opportunity cost (that time could have been spent doing homework, or working, or researching), it is possible to conclude that my time in the Gardens created negative value. But that’s not how I felt.

My mind shifted back to the open field, the soccer “game” and the dog. I recalled how comically serious the soccer “game” was taken, how happy the children were when they got the ball, how it appeared that, from the children’s perspectives, within the ball contained everything essential to life, all the business meetings, all the homework, all the potential research was somehow wrapped up and rolling around in a hollow ball… They were living life to the fullest. Perhaps our “adult” understanding of value needs some tweaking. The way we place value on our time should include moments of meditation, of reflection, of fun.

University life restricts my interactions with young children. And, it is in moments like these that I recall how much they have to teach young-adults and grown-ups alike. What a powerful statement these children were unknowingly making. Although it was a quiet statement, it was one that screamed in the slightly anxious faces of supervising parents hoping their child would remain uninjured. Although I’m not a parent, I was lucky enough to hear this quiet, screaming statement. It said to live is to laugh is to love. And even if just for a moment, love and fulfillment carry an incredible amount of value. So much is their value that they alone can transcend barriers society works so hard to maintain. It said wisdom knows no age. And then, after such a significant statement, after a miracle moment, after a memory that I hope will be ever sustained there was silence. And, I returned to my business meeting, business as usual, but with a newfound realization, a new way to define value in my life. I returned to my meeting with the memory of a miracle moment.

miracle moment

On the Origins of Behavior and Ethics: Leadership, Star Wars and Model UN Inspired Discovery

values emotion logic

My previous blog posts spoke about balancing emotions with logic. They pulled off of the common assumption that human behavior and ethics is driven by interaction of logic and emotions. However, when writing about my family, I found that the “double-standard I hold them too” defies both logic and emotions, often leaving us frustrated. Since writing that piece, I have been trying to determine what else, if not logic nor emotions, could be driving my behavior in these circumstances. Conversations in class and participating in Model UN these past two weeks helped me determine what that something else is: values…

“Leadership is something that can be taught,” exclaimed my co-professors during the first meeting of my “Border Crossings” class. I took this to be a radical idea, always considering leadership as something people are born with. Just two weeks later I am already beginning to see the flaws in my assumption. Our most recent conversation on the ethics of leadership broadened my perspective. During this particular class session, I decided to be more of an observer than a direct contributor and what I picked up from the conversation has boggled my mind ever since.

Kant and Rawls were both introduced in class as philosophers concerned with equity, universality and ethical duty. They both view the world through a primarily logical lens, a lens that even goes as far as ostracizing emotions and emotional justifications. Both Kant and Rawls speak about how volatile emotions are relative to steadfast logic and use that volatility as reasoning behind rejecting emotional decisions.

After explaining this, my professors opened the class for discussion. Some people agreed with the hyper-rational philosophies explaining how logic allows for stability and security; whereas, others criticized Kant and Rawls as rejecting the very thing that makes us human: emotions.

The debate between logic and emotions continued with people arguing in favor of one or the other. I sat quietly pondering advice a mentor gave me last Summer… “one’s logic is based in emotion. People use rationality to veil their emotions, and it is only once you talk to these underlying emotions that you can really communicate with someone. That is the difference between talking and communicating: the consideration of emotion.”

 The class ended without coming to a consensus and two weeks later, I am still searching for such conclusion, as I Kan’t entirely connect with either the logical or emotional perspectives…

However, the more I posit these discussions and perspectives, the more I feel that the black-white dichotomy created by emotion vs. logic discussions is both limiting and inaccurately reflects the motives behind human behavior, and more importantly human ethics. There are times that I act in a manner that is both illogical and not in the interest of my emotions so there must be some other driving force to behavior. These past two weekends I participated in Model UN (first as a judge and then as a participant), an experience that neither is the most logical use of my time, nor makes me feel particularly happy in the moment, as there is quite a bit of stress and energy expelled in the process. Amid the stress, the long hours of debate and the peculiarities involved in any Model UN experience, I was determined to figure out why I choose to continue my involvement in Model UN, despite both logic and emotions advising me otherwise.

 Allow me to set the stage for you…

There’s only one place in the world outside of a Star Wars convention that a college senior would have a heated debate with a high school freshman regarding Star Wars lure: Model UN. Two weekends ago I was lucky enough to be chairing (model UN term meaning judging and facilitating) a fantastical Model UN committee on the Revanchist Dominion (one of the three main factions in Star Wars). It was our job to take over the galaxy by fighting off the Republic and the Sith Empire (the other two factions), which required both diplomacy and disagreement. The committee featured high schoolers from all over the United States, each representing a different character in the Star Wars universe. Admittedly, I had no prior knowledge of Star Wars; however, after a weekend of passionate debate I can proudly explain the entirety of the Star Wars Universe to anyone (well, not quite).

The entire time I was chairing, I kept wondering how my committee members were able to maintain such passion, despite this debate being entirely fantastical. I also wondered how I mustered up the drive to continue calling on delegate after delegate, speaker after speaker. Sure, committee is fun in the beginning but after 15+ hours of debate, an ever-shrinking fascination with the debate topic and an ever-growing mountain of schoolwork to do it is both a logical and emotional struggle to continue. And yet I did continue to chair, and I continued without regret.

One week later, I find myself sitting in Le Sheraton in Montreal preparing for my first committee session as a delegate of McGill University’s college Model UN conference (aka McMUN). My assigned position: Carlos Leon (a Venezuelan poet) in a historical committee focused on democratization of Venezuela post WWII- if you think high schoolers getting passionate over impersonating fictional Star Wars characters is fascinating, imagine college students getting passionate over impersonating historical Venezuelan intellectuals.

I understand that my participation in this conference has already consumed a large number of hours of preparation work, will take up my entire weekend, and will take a temporary toll on my emotional wellbeing. I also understand that if I were particularly interested in learning about the history of Venezuela (which now after preparing for debate, I can say is worth studying), I could learn it in twice the amount of detail in half the amount of time relative to what I will learn in the 20+ hours of debate. It’s both an illogical and an un-emotional decision. And yet despite knowing this, I continue to participate in Model UN, and I do so without regret.

So, if neither logic nor emotions are driving my behavior, what is? I pondered this for quite some time, relating it back to the conversation in my Boarder Crossing class. Could there be a flaw in the logic vs. emotion debate?

After some reflection, I boiled down my decision to continue with Model UN to three root causes:  1. Model UN had a significant impact on me in high school so participating in debate gives me a sense of nostalgia while chairing debate is a way for me to give back what has given me so much. 2. I am genuinely curious by how passionate some people get during debate while playing sometimes historical and fictional roles. 3. On each Model UN experience, I hope to meet new people that are worthwhile to keep in touch with.

In the midst of long, redundant and repetitive debate (yes pun intended) that brings with it a sense of emotional volatility when someone proposes or does something ludicrous, I thought about these causes: nostalgia, giving back, curiosity and hope, trying to determine what they all shared besides leading me to behave in a way that contradicts both logic and emotions.

I raised this question to friends of mine from high school who also continue to do Model UN in college (and coincidently were at the same conference). Their answer: values. That single word has since opened my eyes to a refined theory on human behavior, one based in balancing one’s logic, emotions and values in making decisions. Rather than viewing human decision as black-white, logic vs emotions, I now believe there is a third category that people consider when making decisions, their values.

In this case values are defined uniquely with great nuance. Under this model of behavior, values are given a specific purpose, a purpose different from that given to logic and emotions. Namely, values differ from logic in that they are not based in rationality and they differ from emotions because they are not volatile, nor focused on the short term. Values, unlike emotions (which are primarily informed by one’s nature) and logic (which is primarily informed by one’s nurture) are informed by both one’s experiences and their nature. Values encapsulate phenomenon like love, hope, trust, faith, and loyalty and their opposites.

Put differently, whereas logic comes from learned intelligence and emotions come from one’s reaction to spontaneous stimuli, values come from experienced wisdom. In fact, I did some research what makes values different from emotions and logic and found that English already linguistically separates values from emotions. Whereas we say that we feel emotions (I feel happy, sad, mad etc.) or that we have enacted logic (I have determined, deduced, implied etc.); we say that we are fulfilled by or that we embody our values (I am hopeful, I am faithful, I am loyal, I am in love). The linguistic difference becomes even more pronounced in languages like Spanish which use an entirely different “to be” verb when describing one’s emotions vs. one’s values (ie. Estar vs. Ser). While this linguistic difference may seem arbitrary, its impact on one’s behavior is undeniable. Values are certainly a driver of behavior independent of both logic and emotions.

From these last two weeks of Model UN, I have come to conclude that human behavior and ethics is driven by three influences working together, not two in an ongoing power struggle. These influences consists of logic, emotions and values, each influencing behavior simultaneously and differently in given situations. To put it simply while making good use of my newly enriched knowledge of Star Wars, one’s behavior and ethical code are constantly influenced by emotions, logic and values that, similar to the Revanchist Dominion, Republic and Sith Empire, each have different sources, motives, and goals. And, just like in the movies and in committee, although at times they may work together, they also may contradict one another. It is up to the author (the individual) to decide which wins out in a given circumstance.

Ethical, authentic leadership requires one to consider his or her logic, emotions and values. It requires people to be independent thinkers in touch with their heart, their brain and their purpose. Realizing this was truly crossing a boarder into a new perspective on behavior, one that emphasizes value-based truths along with logical and emotional truths. What a well-named class, I thought, realizing how happy I was to have had a discussion on Leadership and the value of Model UN.