Finding Purpose at Duke

I think finding purpose is a lifelong journey, and part of that journey is realizing that things that once brought me purpose and meaning no longer do. Throughout high school, things that brought me a sense of purpose, reflected in a sense of joy and deep satisfaction, were simply stepping stones to getting into college. Using values as a baseline in which to define a life of purpose, I now realize that these things brought me purpose because they fed into larger values I believe in: achievement, growth and excellence. Of these three, only growth has stayed with me throughout my college journey. Part of the reason is that no clear stepping stones exist – college is a bed of gravel in which we must carve our own path.

Growth has given me far more flexibility than achievement or excellence because it is a standard to be measured only against myself, and so is a true value of purpose – something that comes from within me. Achievement and excellence were also short term, serving only to inspire me for short periods of time and leaving me with a listlessness that a true value would have not.

Growth has given me purpose and meaning precisely because it belies the criterion for a “single truth”; a value that must be universally applicable in order to have worth. It allows me to accept that values, passions and the way that people find meaning in their life are inherently individual. I attend college in a world where people are increasingly more and more accomplished, but far more fragile. In this setting, idealism and belief in personal values are not just important, they are also prerequisites to carving a path that is uniquely my own. In order to counter this fragility, my idealism has to be able to stand up to a stronger critique. In essence, it must higher standards than inner values have ever been subjected to. When I look at measuring my growth, I can draw strength from how far I have come, but also motivation to look at how far I have to go.

Part of the problem of finding the values that were closest to me was that little guidance existed. For people older than me, values had already been largely set out for them – a moral pull towards patriotism or a familial push towards duty. Growing up in an increasingly globalized world and moving around in it meant that I grew highly skeptical of ideals like patriotism and duty. I couldn’t swallow or find meaning in values based around “the higher goals of society”. I had been exposed to far too many versions of these values to accept a single one as my truth.

Gandhi once said, “[w]hatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” Through my time at Duke, I have developed a modification of the quote, adapting the quote to reflect how the privilege of my education may well be significant, and that the things I could potentially do at Duke are overwhelming. In contrast to accepting insignificance, I find meaning and purpose in doing things that may seem insignificant now, but trusting that growth is its own end, not a means to significance.   

This article was first written for Ethics 253S: Pursuit of Purpose

Kansas University: Now recruiting top AARP prospects

The University of Kansas Athletics Department has taken commitment and accountability to the next level: they have hired a legion of retired-folk (no, not The American Legion, but similar) to assure that their athletes attend class. The full article can be found in the Wall Street Journal’s riveting Life and Culture: Sports section.

First, I’ll set aside all jabs about Duke’s athletic superiority over that of the Jayhawks. Now, let us break down where two ethical questions may arise: one, should these athletes be tracked and two, why do the trackers have to be elderly people?

When I think of college, I think not of more rigorous academics, learning to live with another person, or consuming disgusting amounts of pizza: I think of freedom. Included in my freedom is the choice to attend – or not attend – class. By hiring trackers to check up on these athletes’ attendance, KU is eliminating a fundamental component of the college experience. Should they stigmatize these students on the basis that they are athletes? They forfeit many freedoms when becoming a student athlete, should the liberty to skip class and catch up on sleep every now and then be one of the opportunities forgone?

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Too Nice?

From a very young age, nearly all of us are taught to “Follow the Golden Rule” and always be nice to others. As countless soap operas, Oprah specials, and well…the real world (that and Mean Girls, of course) has shown us, however, this rule is often broken. There have been many studies that show that indulging in overly selfish behavior leads to social ostracism and stigma.

Recently, however, one such study that set out to prove the social effects of selfishness conducted by Craig Parks and Asako Stone had a surprising outcome: people hate selflessness as much as selfishness. People think that those who are overly generous or “too nice” make themselves look bad or they find them irritating.

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Your Angry Birds addiction is … good for you?


There is the longstanding stigma that videogames are, at best, an escape from reality. Painted in less favorable light, the games are regarded as corruptive and dangerous. However, a recent Wall Street Journal article claims that they are fulfilling and beneficial to users. Videogames bleed more and more into our daily lives.  They come with us everywhere now, hanging out in phones, not just in people’s dorm rooms.  Their ubiquity hasn’t convinced everyone of their good, though.

There is evidence for each side to cite: kids who play video games are better able to reason spatially; or a murderer who attributed his facileness with the crime to his videogame usage. While I think a lot of myths propel both sides, for the sake of this post, I think we should take basic point the WSJ article is making: “games consistently provide us with the four ingredients that make for a happy and meaningful life: satisfying work, real hope for success, strong social connections and the chance to become a part of something bigger than ourselves.” So, people desperately seek social connection and a meaningful life; what are the implications of allowing people to satisfy these needs in a virtual setting?

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