A few days ago, when I was sitting in one of my classes, a couple of students came in to take a survey on the average amount of sleep students get per night. As they called out the choices (3-4 hours, 5-6 hours, so and on), we raised our hands. When they had left our classroom, our concerned teacher asked us why we were not getting enough sleep. We answered, jokingly and seriously, that we had taken too many AP classes, to which my teacher replied that we shouldn’t have taken so many if it was compromising our health.
Not too long ago, I was reading John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, and I happened across an interesting passage:
“And the migrants streamed in on the highways and their hunger was in their eyes. hey had no argument, no system, nothing but their numbers and their needs. When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it–fought with a low wage. if that fella’ll work for thirty cents, I’ll work for twenty-five.
If he’ll take twenty-five, I’ll do it for twenty.
No, me, I’m hungry. I’ll work for fifteen. I’ll work for food.”
The migrant workers are pushed from place to place, hated and reviled by all though they are simply trying to make a living. They are desperate for work, work at any cost, work at any price. When they ask who it was that made them migrants, they get no straight answer. All trails lead back to “the bank” or “the trust”, a merciless, immortal monster. The migrants, who had previously been farmers, had been working in direct contact with the land for years and they could observe the direct give-and-take relationship between man and the land: plant seeds, care for the earth and the earth returns the favor by producing crops for sale and for the farmer’s own consumption. For people with that mindset, it’s hard to imagine something that they couldn’t solve at all no matter how hard they tried. It’s frustrating to hear and horrifying to think about a mysterious force that controls you like a puppet. What is there that can hear your troubles? It isn’t a person, but rather a corporation; how do you kill one of those?
Students are in a somewhat similar situation. Though the students at my school are lucky enough not to worry about getting our next meal, we are impressed into a vicious competition against each other. Do any of us really want to be competitors? None of us do, but that is what we live with. We enter high school as shaky, unsure freshmen, but in the assembly line of high school, we become jaded and grim. Sure we could elect to do what we really want to do and not take as many AP classes, but what holds us back is the knowledge that there’s a lot of people out there who are taking many AP classes and excelling in them. We wonder how we’d stack up against those sorts of people, who take challenging classes and excel in sports, dance or music. Thus we push ourselves to the limit and sacrifice sleep to get good grades in the classes we take and participate in extracurricular activities to stay competitive in an increasingly challenging college admissions process. We all say we’re tired, but there is no rest for the weary.
And in the end, how much does all this unhappiness pay off? Will the end be worth it? We have no idea.
It’s a sad reality, this life mentality.