Oh, to be young (i.e. 20s) and in love! The world must seem so simple. Or perhaps that is simply an older person's projection. I actually believe that those entering university now are much more aware of the complexities of life, yet are ill-equipped to deal with them precisely because we as their "elders" presume their innocence (or perhaps we presume it for our own sake as a way to live our idealized versions through them).
I had anticipated having something to blog about out of this orientation talk, but I was hoping for a bit more "messiness". In the end, the session on dating ended up being very flat and one-dimensional, almost sanitized (To be fair, it was delivered by the Health Center. The Psychology department is actually offering a semester-long "broadening course" for the general student body.).
The talk opened with the presenter asking all 12 of us (many of HKU's freshmen are actually participating in hall orientation activities, so the scheduling is a bit sub-optimal) to list our top three criteria for finding a mate. The assumption being that the end goal for dating is marriage. There was no mention of the diversity of human sexuality, lifestyle or other factors that might influence one's decision to marry or not to marry. Most answered that they looked for someone who shared similar values, who is caring and trustworthy. Such is life that some will fall for the exact opposite of what they have listed. I need only look in my own sphere to see that reality does not mirror stated expectations or ideals. Nor is what we say a true reflection of our unconscious desires.
What I found really memorable, however, was when the presenter spoke about the monogamy. She asked the group if people in Hong Kong have always been monogamous. The answer is that Hong Kong only banned polygamy in 1971. Prior to 1971, men could have more than one wife. Women, on the other hand, could not have more than one husband. What I found disappointing, though, was when she went on to comment that while there may be more than one suitable mate for us, we should be monogamous because that it what the "system" has determined for us. As good citizens, we should act in accordance with the "system" and its laws. That this view gets "taught" to university students in what is supposedly Asia's top university is appalling. There was no discussion whatsoever of the ethical and moral issues within relationships. Rather, what was offered was a meaningless commandment: Thou shalt not cheat because you will be breaking the law. And good people do not break the law. I should have asked: We all aspire to be law-abiding citizens. But given that human nature did not make us monogamous, how should people who find themselves in the very complicated situation of being in love or involved with more than one person cope with the overwhelming emotions and conflicting desires?
Doing the right thing is very different from doing the legal thing. And very often, doing the right thing means acting in opposition to the system. I hope this orientation is not indicative of the kind of education the students can look forward to. And if it is, I hope the students, in their youthful vigor, will struggle against it. I will be teaching a marketing class this semester. In my first class, I intend to share this video on "21st Century Enlightenment" from the RSA:
I hope I can engage my students, and vice versa, in a semester-long dialogue that will allow us "to have a relationship with our reactions, rather than to be captive of them; to resist to make right or true that which is merely familiar and wrong or false that which is merely strange." Of course, this is much easier written than done. This blog entry is me being captive to my own reactions.