Chapel talk: Sunsets and Skylines

Peter Park is a 2007 graduate of Peddie, and is currently an Assistant Director of Admission. He reflects here on one of Peddie's core values: balance.

“When you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing.”

It is wonderfully strange to be standing here before you as a proud Peddie alum and now faculty member. Today I was asked to speak on the core value of balance in the context of our Peddie community. As a former student-athlete at Peddie I can certainly appreciate the sense of balance required to manage my time both in and out of the pool while learning the skills to be productive and successful beyond Peddie. Peddie taught me the balance of learning from failure early on academically. My freshman year, I saw so much red in Ms. Wood’s CABB essays class I almost went colorblind. Who would have guessed that I would one day teach English to seventh and eighth graders in Kansas City, Missouri? Peddie also taught me how to balance myself as a person socially. I was so introverted in middle-school that I would blush when working in small groups with the opposite gender.  In Harry’s Speech and Debate class, I gained the confidence that led me to one day discuss business development with sporting brands all over the world. There were countless faculty members, many of whom are still here today, who taught me lessons of balance. However the most difficult thing to balance after my time at Peddie was curbing my swimmer appetite! But I will save that story for another day…

One story I did want to share with you this morning comes from Heinrich Boll, one of Germany’s foremost post World War II writers who won the 1972 Nobel Prize for Literature. One of Boll’s most famous stories is, "Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral" ("Anecdote Concerning the Lowering of Productivity"). Since its publication over 50 years ago it has been featured in business magazines and self-help books like The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. And so, the story is set in an unnamed harbor on the west coast of Europe in the summer:

A smartly-dressed enterprising tourist is taking photographs when he notices a shabbily dressed local fisherman taking a nap in his fishing boat. The tourist is disappointed with the fisherman's apparently lazy attitude towards his work, so he approaches the fisherman and asks him why he is lying around instead of catching fish. The fisherman explains that he went fishing in the morning, and the small catch would be sufficient for the next two days.
The tourist tells him that if he goes out to catch fish multiple times a day, he would be able to buy a motor in less than a year, a second boat in less than two years, and so on. The tourist further explains that one day, the fisherman could even build a small cold storage plant, later a pickling factory, fly around in a helicopter, build a fish restaurant, and export lobster directly to Paris without a middleman.
The nonchalant fisherman asks, "Then what?"
The tourist enthusiastically continues, "Then, without a care in the world, you could sit here in the harbor, doze in the sun, and look at the glorious sea."
"But I'm already doing that", says the fisherman.
The enlightened tourist walks away wishing he was leading the fisherman’s life.

As I read the story it leaves me balancing thoughts of a warm Spring Break (as you might have been doing just now) and wondering: “Was Boll suggesting that I should just be happy with what I have and not try at all?” What also troubles me is how this story of selective productivity completely contradicts the Zen koan we heard earlier, “When you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing” which suggested the sense of another familiar motto, “When We Finish Our Labors We Begin Them Anew”. So which is it, do I stay on the boat or keep climbing the mountain?
I did not share this story to suggest complacency but rather to encourage you to be mindful of your current surroundings and appreciate the smaller details. The common and most relevant being that you all are here as one of many Peddie students that came before you and made countless decisions each and every day to be “productive” citizens of our community. But as Boll suggests in his short story, each of us can define productivity in a unique manner. And yet, how often do we mask productivity with “being busy”? Janet Choi, the COO of a corporate time-management application called iDoneThis, reflects on how busy-ness should not be a desirable virtue in the work place. She explains,
“It’s easy, even enticing, to neglect the importance of filling our time with meaning, thinking instead that we’ll be content with merely filling our time. We self-impose these measures of self-worth by looking at quantity instead of quality of activity.”
As one of the many that have shared our Peddie experiences with you I have also had my fair share of learning how to strive for the “quality of activity” that Choi suggests. But I want to expand on that notion and suggest that activities do not have to be credentials for your college essays or things to impress upon others. Rather, the balance that we should strive for starts within our mindset to make the most of our collective experience here at Peddie regardless of which activities you are a part of.
I remember being the eager and somewhat overwhelmed freshman sitting on the front row of the balcony surveying the future landscape of Peddie students thinking, “I’m going to miss this view next year!” given my shorter stature. I was also the sullen sophomore that felt burnt out in the sport I had known and loved since I was four years old, who wanted to quit but then felt the overwhelming support of teammates, friends, advisors and so on to love the process of hardship that comes often with being successful. I was the junior out of the “sophomore slump” and excited to learn and positively influence others as a Dorm Prefect in Kerr North. And I was also the senior, learning how to prioritize my own sense of being a productive citizen of Peddie and appreciate the simpler things like being on center campus during an off-block on a warm spring day.
With the upcoming break it is easy to be inundated with thoughts of final papers, exams, assignments and commitments. However, whatever mindset, experience or momentous circumstance you are currently in or looking forward to in the future – I encourage you to find balance in appreciating not only those warm sunsets on the boat but also the frigid mountains you will continue to climb. As Peddie both nurtured and challenged me to seek balance in ways that still influence me today, I hope that you too will experience many sunsets and skylines in your future.
*Ala Viva*