Recently, after watching the movie The Great Gatsby, I found out about the American singer Lana del Rey who sang the main theme (I believe?) Young and Beautiful. It is a haunting song by any means and its sad and melancholic undertones really brings out the mood of the ultimately sombre movie. I went on to pry more about Lana del Rey and watched the videos of her other songs which were all rather similar in its melancholic style.
However, what struck me most was the impression I formed of her from her videos, which was that of another trashy and pseudo-classy singer, and the renewed light I viewed her in after more observation from interviews and her interaction with her fans. Of course, it may be superficial and unreliable to judge a person from produced interviews and other public interactions but how much of yourself can you really hide? One’s manner of speech and of course, their tangible actions can be indicators. When asked about her penchant for not smiling in her videos, she reflects that it is probably because she is a contemplative person, and is always thinking about things, which generally doesn’t lead to smiling. The lyrics for almost all her songs, though not fantastic, are penned by herself and her first single, Video Games was produced by herself on her home computer with vintage clips and shots she collected over the years.
So why all that talk about Lana del Rey? To me, its because despite her considerable success for her debut album, she actually has the character to tell the world that she is probably not going to make another album, because she feels that she has said all she has wanted to say. As she had said before, she is always a writer first, singer second. This is the point that reminded me that the character of thought is so precious to us. The way we think is something that partly defines us, and similarly it is something that nobody can take away, much like in V for Vendetta where ”ideas are bulletproof”. As much as Lana could continue down this path and make tons of money, her choice is to try out for Hollywood script writing where she feels she can truly express herself. Can most people do that?
The ability to think may seem like a gift to men but if it is not nurtured we can be no different from our animal brethen. The way we are brought up to think is therefore important. The world nowadays (at least for me) is really quite practical. People get an education so that they can get a job and, well, survive. This is unavoidable of course, and even for the less-privileged, education is the key to breaking their cycle of poverty by offering financial stability.
After the basics of education like reading and writing and mathematics are fulfilled, people have the opportunity to pursue further education and they have a lot of choices. However, herein lies the problem. If the purpose of education to these people is to secure financial freedom (the more the better), they will logically pursue education in the areas that offer the best jobs. Eventually, society will evolve with an emphasis on education in that area and other areas of education will lose its importance. The society will have an imbalance both in skill set and mind set. Which brings us back to the character of thought.
Character is the distinctive quality of an individual, and thought is the ability of thinking, so character of thought is the unique way of how a person thinks. Why is that important? If you put it into the context of today, there are so many forms of mediums from social media to newspapers to your priest, parents or teachers who are trying to influence you with their own opinions and thoughts. If you accept what somebody tells you just like that, you have NO character of thought. And that is a very sad thing. Its like the first time somebody told me Justin Biebs was so gay. I didn’t accept that judgement right away of course. But eventually some things are just too hard to ignore.
I went to all the trouble of mentioning the part about further education because it is the stage in my life where I will soon start the final formal stage of my education. and even though I have already chose what I will be studying, I must say that it is not really my preferred choice. As I mentioned, practically, if one takes up education in order to find a job to survive, they might as well find the job that pays the best while they are at it right? In my case I chose to study business as I felt it would give me the best options when I graduated. There are many like me.
My first choice, a few years ago and in fact when I was in my Secondary days was to study psychology when I grew up. It had been my interest all along but somehow when I got to the stage of choosing my subjects for uni psychology was one of the…less successful subjects. Furthermore, to do what I truly wanted to do in psychology (which was to do research on behavior) it required a PhD which was another 3 years of studies.
In retrospect, this point in my life made me think about the meaning of education. To be honest, as a Singaporean brought up in the system, education to me was about going to school, studying for tests, sitting for tests and hopefully do well for the test. Even when I went on to Secondary school, it still was about the accumulation of knowledge, specifically knowledge that is required for the big one-time test at the end of our 4 years. It was only when I went on to junior college that some teachers actually encouraged us to explore more of certain topics and sciences, so that we can learn more. So it was then that I learned of the differentiation between learning what we need to know to ace a test, and learning for the sake of learning-for self enrichment.
I recently read an article from the New York Times regarding the decline of humanities in education systems. True enough, my personal experience was that after completing my secondary studies, I wanted to apply for a Arts course in junior college, which was disapproved by my parents as a Science course had more choices available in university. It was of no matter in the end, my affinity for the Sciences was so bad that I had to drop my H2 Chemistry to H1 which cancelled out all the potential courses in university that had H2 Chemistry as its pre-requisite. This decline of humanities will have its impact on society. The article mentions that ”the most fundamental gift of the humanities” is ”clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature.” A society that is imbalanced in the nature of its minds will see a cultural and behavioral degradation as people start to lose the true meaning of education, which in my opinion is to self-enrich and develop a greater understanding of the world, so as to better appreciate it. After all, what is the meaning of life if you live without meaning?
I may not have articulated my thoughts properly and I apologize but I just hope that one day, we can all live in an environment where we are all (not just the privileged few) brought up to think critically as well as articulate and write clearly. Only then are we able to enjoy the richness of each other’s minds and appreciate the beauty of our character of thought.