Share and Share Alike


It’s not stretch to imagine I feel overwhelmed at times here. As I’ve written before, it has been a decade since I finished school and adjusting to academic life has not been without its struggles. Further, I’m delving into a field in which I have zero experience. The result is feeling a bit of sensory overload as I take in political theory, economics, history and the like.

To help keep it all straight I created a study sheet for my Theories of International Relations class. I needed something to keep everything straight and managed to finagle the entire half-semester onto a two-sided sheet of paper in preparation for midterm exams. It’s pretty nifty, I think. I also began to think maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only person who could benefit from such a study aid and so I emailed it to the entire class. Two surprise responses came from this little experiment:

First, everyone else started sharing their notes and personalized study guides with the whole class as well. It seems everyone caught on to the idea that everyone does well when everyone does well. This was a heartening response.

The second response was a little disheartening. While studying in the library a day or two later, one of my classmates approached me and asked, somewhat dumbfoundedly, “Why did you send that sheet to everyone in the class? They only give out so many As. Aren’t you afraid someone is going to do better than you now?”

To my friend, because the professor is only going to hand out so many As, I was diminishing my chances of receiving an A by sharing my resource with everyone. Perhaps I’m being naive and idealistic but I like to think this whole thing should be approached from the standpoint of me getting an A if my work deserves it, not from trying to game the system based on how many As may or may not be given out. If I want the A, I have to be at the top of my game, yes? At least that’s the approach I try to take.

And of course, this speaks to a larger theme in life: asymmetric and scarcity mindsets versus an abundance mentality. The former says if you’re doing well, then I’m not doing as well. The latter says you doing well does not equal me doing any less well. In fact, you doing well may redound to be doing better than I currently am.

Why is the former our default and not the latter? I assume it has something to do with attitudes and realities passed down from centuries ago where things were more rooted in a brute survivor mentality. Perhaps we’ve missed the opportunity to transition to a mindset more fitting with the world today. Maybe my friend could have seen that if everyone does well in this class because of what we’ve shared, we will all be that much better at this whole international relations thing. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? There is a big world full of challenges and opportunities and it’s going to take all of us at the top of our game to deal with them. That’s much bigger than how many As are given out.

All boats float when the tide comes in. Except those stuck in the mud from when it last went out. But that’s probably a larger issue of being weighed down with something that should have been cast overboard a long time ago.

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#SAIS

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© 2020 by Mark Konold