Stan Faryna is working on an apocalyptic novel-mmorpg-movie that asks the big questions about why are we here, what shall we do, and what can we hope for. He is an author, design wonk, entrepreneur, online strategist, problem-solver, and servant heart. Stan is on Facebook and he’s @Faryna on Twitter. You can help him help Nisha Varghese here.
How did you choose what to study in college?
If you heard my confessions podcast, you know my mother ixnayed a scholarship to study art. She also ixnayed my alternative desire to go to St. John’s College to study the great books on her fist full of dollars.
Ironically, she spent a fortune sending me to the University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California) to study business, law, or pre-med. I agreed reluctantly as a dutiful son should do when someone else is footing the bill.
I figured that at least I could party hard at USC. And party hard I did. I quickly came to have a reputation for downing liters of vodka via beer bong in seconds. Unfortunately, I never liked beer. It fills me fast.
But I also fell in love with learning that first semester. I had a glimpse of the complete beauty of wisdom. And her beauty took my breath away. The courtship of wisdom began with much awkwardness as any courtship that involves a young man with great expectations.
Without intention, I took a course on Confucian thought. Professor Robert Nosco of USC’s East Asian Culture and Language school was teaching it. Professor Nosco illuminated the virtues and values that Confucius expected of a gentleman. He made the Confucian gentleman relevant to college kids in a world 2200 years later and a culture very different from Confucius. Professor Nosco appealed to our yearning for greatness, sophistication, and culture. He did so with considerable charm, grace, and insight into the problems of modern life.
We used Arthur Waley’s Analects of Confucius as a text book. There is no better translation of the Confucian ethic. However, Ezra Pound’s translation does help you understand the concrete nuances of Confucian wisdom.
“A gentleman can see a question from all sides without bias. The small man is biased and can see a question only from one side.”
These are not just words. I felt that immediately. Nor can one fully appreciate the meaning immediately, but the wisdom of those words will be understood for their beauty and truth in time. And what sort of brute is it that one does not yearn to be a person that sees a question from all sides?!
I was also enrolled in classes related to business, law, and pre-med in my first two years, but I was greatly disappointed by the material as I was by my classmates. I considered the latter, immature and brutish. All that they knew is that they really wanted a lot of money. None had any good ideas about how to make it – not to mention I could outdrink them all. [laughing]
In the summers, I did pre-med sciences at Georgetown University.
But I also took other classes (electives) that spoke to my heart, mind, and soul. I took classes about the Bible, Buddhism, Hinduism, Homer, Islam, Nietzsche, etc. I started to think that I might pursue a career as a psychiatrist. As a healer. In the footsteps of Sigmund Freud. Or Carl Gustav Jung.
The game-changer, I must admit, was when my high school sweet heart and fiancé broke up with me.
We had gone to different schools. The quarterback of her school’s football team was interested in her and she wanted to give that a try. She broke up with me the night before my Organic Chemistry final. Uncontrollable tears fell during the exam and soaked the empty exam-answer book. I failed the course and that was the end of my pre-med slash psychiatry track.
Since there would be no marriage and responsibility at the conclusion of my formal education, I considered myself temporarily free from the worry about making enough money to support a family. Initially, I considered not returning to U.S.C. to start my junior (third) year. I spent three months of silence, unstoppable tears, and soul-searching in my bedroom to consider these things. I read Shakespeare, Jung, and Freud as consolation.
I returned to U.S.C. with the conclusion that a university (generally speaking) offered a unique opportunity to learn what I must lean about life, about what it means to be human, about what I could hope for as a human. If I didn’t figure things out now, I would never again have such an opportunity. That is how I chose what I wanted to study in college!
And once the decision was made, I took six to eight classes per semester. A full semester load was four. I also worked as a security guard, I did volunteer work, I served as a mentor at a local, inner city high school, and I served on internships. And I graduated 2.5 years later with a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies.
I should mention my mother’s surprise at graduation when she discovered that I was not receiving a BA in Business. Fortunately, my professors put on quite a show at the graduation ceremony. She was filled up with enough pride not to be heart broken over my little discrepancy. [grin]
The morale of the story: That love (and loss) ever steers us down paths of heart and destiny. Ignore love (and loss) at your own peril of greater misery and self-defeat.
Tell us about your college majors.
The Interdisciplinary Degree at USC was created to allow students to pursue a multidisciplinary track of their own determination subject to the approval of various academic authorities. Such a degree was considered important to the preparation of young leaders because leadership requires the ability to look at a problem from all sides. Thus the young leader must not only pursue knowledge across multiple disciplines, but they must also bring it together in a relevant and meaningful manner.
I was required to solicit one mentor that counseled me in my synthesis of all the disciplines I chose to focus on. Additionally, I had to solicit mentors in each of the separate disciplines that I chose to study. John Orr of the USC School of Religion was my Virgil. I was his Dante. Frank Fox of the Graduate School of Educational Psychology mentored me in Humantistic Psychologies, Robert Ellwood mentored me in Comparative Religions, Dallas Willard mentored me in Philosophy, D, Brendan Nagle in History, etc. There were also many other professors who took interest in my endeavor from the Schools of Neuroscience, Literature, etc.
Religion, as Mircea Eliade observed, restores us to an experience with the Sacred. It is about our deepest hopes, our greatest aspirations, and, perhaps, our origins, identity, and destiny. If you want to understand people at their deepest and their best, you have to understand religion.
Humanistic Psychology is about healing, growing, and negotiating our path through life and this world. “Know thyself,” Plato said. And Plato didn’t say it to be cool! In fact, we will never understand freedom, community, government, or happiness without an understanding of who we are and why we do and say the things we do (and don’t do). Regarding business, I might add that you can’t see what people truly need and why if you don’t know what you need and why.
Developmental and Modern Psychology is some kind of bad popular mechanics in my opinion. It offers very little insight into the human person.
History is to be studied to understand human and group behavior today and, perhaps, also to predict the future. Through history we understand the greatest and the worst things that people and peoples have done. History teaches us through stories. It connects us with the past. It connects us with those who lived in the past. History helps us understand the universals and recurring motiffs of human aspiration, triumph, kindness, disappointment, anger, cruelty, and defeat. No great strategist in war or business had disregard for History.
Philosophy, however, is the queen of sciences and learning – especially philosophical anthropologies. A study of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas contribute to our capacity to use reason to understand things in satisfaction of our curiosity, to decide upon a course of action, and come to conclusions about the things that matter most. Beyond the considered opinions of the great philosophers, philosophy shares with us the method to think independently, critically, and freely for ourselves.
Democracy and freedom, I would argue, can never be worthwhile without leaders (and their advisors) prepared by the great philosophers. The sciences, in general, are helpful in this regard. But they can’t help you see the bigger (human) picture.
Does going to school really matter?
In Sartre’s book, Naseau, the antagonist is a self-educating man. He reads the great books in alphabetical order. By the end of the book, he rapes and kills a small girl. Of course, this is a dramatic conclusion that exaggerates the problem of pursuing an intellectual life without formal education. But Sartre’s point is not lost on me.
Good professors will guide your through the narrative of knowledge, illuminate the important questions to be considered, and demand you to consider, reflect upon, and struggle with the things that should be considered. A good professor will give you a reading list that has been considered, reflected upon, and judged to be of intense and concentrated insight.
Great professors will do everything that good professors do. And they will make you feel strongly about the insights they illuminate in their lecture. The best of them will challenge you to ask questions from your heart, mind, and/or soul. Their insights will be so powerful that their insights and questions will live inside you forever. A few will change you forever.
Depending on your location and the professors serving your local college or university, going to night school or full time may (or may not) be worthwhile. I would recommend doing a little research about the professors teaching things that may interest you. If they are interesting enough to you, I would further recommend making an appointment and having a chat with them. Then, you’ll have a better idea about what to do.
As you may have guessed by now, I’m a great fan of the liberal arts education. And I share C.S. Lewis’ opinion that a classical education better serves a citizen and an aspiring leader than professional training alone.