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'The scent of chamomile' Amherst essay on kindness


keilinger 9 / 53  
Dec 19, 2009   #1
''It seems to me incumbent upon this and other schools' graduates to recognize their responsibility to the public interest...unless the graduates of this college...are willing to put back into our society those talents, the broad sympathy, the understanding, the compassion...then obviously the presuppositions upon which our democracy are based are bound to be fallible.''

John F. Kennedy, at the ground breaking for the Amherst College Frost Library, October 26, 1963

The scent of chamomile wafted from her steaming mug. Beside her, a box of tissue begged to be replenished. I focused on these minute details, perhaps in an effort to put distance between myself and the stranger's shrill tone that carried her cries of betrayal, anger, and disappointment.

The neurons in my brain fired rapidly. What could I possibly do to console her? What could there be to say that wouldn't be hackneyed words of comfort? I could remind her that, in due time, the hurt she felt now would be nothing more than speck in her memory. But, no. That could be annoying to hear. I wouldn't want to marginalize her feelings. A confusing amalgam of sympathy and frustration settled in my chest. I grappled for the right words to say while the stranger grappled with her feelings.

A familiar feeling crept over me as I realized I had been intellectualizing, rationalizing again. Having the right words or the best advice often does little for those needing moral support. When I looked around me, I saw my school's Wellness staff of two, so willing to provide minutiae of advice, but equally willing to facilitate students' gradual understanding of their feelings. Max and Jen are hip twenty-year-olds, understandably popular in our high school community. But what sets them apart in my mind, what makes them special to me, is their unending patience and kindness. They view the world through lens colored by their academic backgrounds- Jen majored in Psychology, Max in Sociology. When I consider my role models, I realize that kindness is the meter stick by which the strength of humanity is measured.

As I continue on the path ahead of me, my experiences will continue to push me to the highest level of intellectual growth. Yet Heraclitus once said, "Much learning does not teach understanding." I would add that understanding is best when complemented by a course of action guided by kind intentions. Understanding and caring with a conscience will do nothing short of strengthening the bonds that tie all of us together.

As I watched the girl opposite from me dissolve into tears, I understood: Kindness doesn't necessarily come in the form of well-intentioned advice. Sometimes, the kindest thing to do is to sit quietly, and let it be known that someone cares. For the moment, I could support her simply listening to understand. And I did.
JS2010 7 / 18  
Dec 19, 2009   #2
I love the essay!!! My only thing is it seems like you were like reading a thesaurus for this essay and included alot of big words that normally wouldn't fit into writing. An example would be minutiae what is that? But otherwise excellent!
Vulpix - / 71  
Dec 19, 2009   #3
On the contrary, I don't think your diction is excessively elevated, nor is your lexicon overtly exaggerated (I think I should get pretentiousness bonus points for managing to make that rhyme). You use "big words", certainly, but the words you choose happen to be the words that fit. You come off as precise, not pretentious- for the most part. The caveat: I agree with JS2010 that "minutiae of advice" is a rather awkward phrase. How about "[...] so willing to provide everyday advice, but equally [...]"? That sounds more natural to me.

Your first two paragraphs are the strongest part of this essay. I kept waiting for you to explain the situation- were you working as a peer counselor, or something?- but that explanation was not forthcoming. The last paragraph confused me a great deal. Greater compassion is the solution to ... to what? I don't see a strong connection between being more environmentally responsible and culturally understanding and the earlier portion of your essay, besides the very last sentence, which is questionable itself:

"As for me, I will strive to close in on the emotional roots of humanity by encouraging understanding of ones feelings before prescribing advice."

Whoa there, Freud Jr.! You're closing in? On the "emotional roots of humanity"? What does that even mean? And by "one's feelings", are you referring to your own feelings or the feelings of the person you are (presumably) counseling? The "one" is ambiguous.

"Reading Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down will push one to strive for greater understanding of cultures different from our own."

By the way, you have a pronoun inconsistency here- "will push one" and "different from our own" switches from third person singular to first person plural.

Overall, an interesting essay with a lot of potential. I think you should narrow your focus to find the moral in the one particular incident that you first described. Otherwise, good work!
OP keilinger 9 / 53  
Dec 20, 2009   #4
Thanks!! I didn't realize that the last paragraph was nonsensical and disgustingly pretentious before you pointed it out. I think a lot of people inadvertently write to sound good, and lose their sense of direction. I'm one of those people! :P

Halfway through, I realized what I was writing barely answered the prompt. So I tried drawing a connection between the scenario (in which I should have focused on listening and understanding) between being open enough to understand the world's problems. Will be working on this tonight! Thanks so much. :-)
OP keilinger 9 / 53  
Dec 20, 2009   #5
The connection between the scenario and the prompt is weak. Does anyone see how I can better tie them together?
OP keilinger 9 / 53  
Dec 20, 2009   #6
For some reasons, the edit button is not appearing.

Here's my last paragraph, on its third draft.

As I watched the girl opposite from me dissolve into tears, I understood: Kindness doesn't necessarily come in the form of well-intentioned advice. Sometimes, the kindest thing to do is to sit quietly, and let it be known that someone cares and is trying to understand. The idea that learning to understand, not to prescribe a course of action, applies to global, as well as personal, issues. (Example of crisis caused by lack of understanding) Sitting on the dilapidated green sofa in the Wellness Center, I could not have directly impacted (country). But for the moment, I could simply listen to understand. And I did.
Vulpix - / 71  
Dec 20, 2009   #7
I'm so glad I could help! And don't worry, I have my own moments of pretentiousness too- I couldn't stop laughing after reading one of my older essays, in which I used the word "quotidian" just a little too often. I think your revised ending is much stronger, but I'm also concerned about its relevance to the prompt, as you said yourself. From what I can infer, the prompt has stronger connotations to "service" than to "kindness", and although the two are certainly not mutually exclusive, right now you're not really addressing your "responsibility to the public interest", as the prompt states.

Hmm, I just read your third revision, and it helps a lot. However, instead of trying to extrapolate kindness over a global scale (note the pretentious and possibly erroneous use of "extrapolate"), I think it might be better if you focused on your effect on your community. I mean, think of all the people that you've helped, just by listening to their troubles and offerring comfort and advice- that certainly shows your "responsibility to the public interest." And of course, address your major if possible- do you want to go into a career that would allow you to better the lives of more people?


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