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2. Ian James Christiansen / Our Relationships

3. Katie Roycroft / Fading Naturalism


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2. Ian James Christiansen / Our Relationships

A relationship is defined as the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected. No matter what age, sex, or ethnic group to which one belongs, an individual needs social contacts, even if they are sometimes stressful, to make life enjoyable and fulfilling. Relationships are an essential source of learning and influence an individual to remain curious and open to new experiences. In The Freedom Writers Diary, the Freedom Writers all develop relationships in the classroom setting. However, before this group of diverse people can come together, they have to let go of all the assumptions that they have about one another. As teacher and Shamanic healer Don Miguel Ruiz explains in The Four Agreements, a person should not make assumptions but instead engage in open communication. Both The Freedom Writers Diary and The Four Agreements emphasize the importance of relationships since they influence the direction of one’s life.

Relationships help society to grow because they bring together different types of people through compromise, teamwork, and effort. The Freedom Writers Diary demonstrates the importance of relationships through chronicling the developing relationships amongst a diverse group of students. For instance, in Diary 33 of The Freedom Writers, the student explains how her father went to jail when she was eight years old, and this event made her loyal to her gang. The woman writes, “You can’t go against your own people, your own blood” (65). However, as Mrs. Gruwell brings the class closer together, the woman’s character changes, and she realizes that the importance of being loyal not just to the people one was raised with, but of being loyal to the people who actually care. In the case of Diary 33, the writer’s relationship with her gang forced her to lie in court, but the new relationships that are developed in Mrs. Gruwell’s class shift the woman’s direction in life.

At Woodrow Wilson High School, when Mrs. Gruwell begins teaching, the students segregate themselves according to race, religion, ethnicity etc. When a student at Woodrow Wilson High School steps into a classroom surrounded by people of other races and religions, he does not dare associate himself with people who were not his “people.” In Diary Three, a boy explains that “schools are just like the city and the city is just like prison” and that all of them “are divided into separate sections, depending on race.” He observes, “On the streets, you kick it in different ‘hoods, depending on your race or where you’re from. And at school, we separate ourselves from people who are different from us” (10). The students are making assumptions about each other based on race.

Don Miguel Ruiz explains in The Four Agreements that “we make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking—we take it personally—then blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our words” (64). This is what the students in Mrs. Gruwell’s class are doing. To overcome this behavior, Mrs. Gruwell has the class participate in activities to demonstrate that although the students are from different backgrounds, they have more in common than they think. For instance, Mrs. Gruwell has the class play “The Peanut Game” in which the students write a description of the peanut, both inside and out. The similarities of their descriptive paragraphs shows the class that although they might come from different backgrounds, they still view certain things in the same way. Through this exercise, Mrs. Gruwell has the students begin to come together to form relationships, which, in some cases, influence the paths the students’ lives follow.

The Freedom Writers Diary demonstrates that relationships are the foundation of society and that they impact the directions of people’s lives. In addition, The Four Agreements emphasizes the idea that, in order to have a strong relationship with a person, one must denounce all assumptions. As the authors show us, relationships hold importance because not only do they bring us pleasure but they also help shape our lives.

Works Cited

The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell. The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. New York: Doubleday, 1999. Print.

Ruiz, Miguel. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Pub., 1997. Print.

3. Katie Roycroft / Fading Naturalism

Huge cities sit still as hoards of people clamber about. Technology swirls around in grey blurs, smothering any hue of emotion. Blackberries buzz, and laptop keys click. Many eyes elude any life form within sight. Suits swing their leather briefcases, designer heels click on the pavement, all consumed by an inconsequential hierarchy of menial jobs. No one stops to help the child who has been severed from her mother’s warm embrace, or pauses to donate to the elderly woman who cannot afford her medication. Instead, they march as drones, connected to nothing but their headphones, their thumbs seemingly glued to phones. No one lifts lethargic eyes from the slick slabs of pavement or bright screens long enough to view the vibrant sun in the cerulean sky, or the folding mountains beckoning just outside the city. Modern lives are consumed with the superfluous and are growing farther from hope, love, adventure, authenticity, beauty, and humanity.

Today, there exists no greater diametric opposite than humanity and nature. Chris McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, made the incredible decision to protest such a theory in an admirable journey. He ventured to Alaska to discover a way of living that has long evaded us. The majority of human lives revolve around money and status. In an attempt to further immerse himself in his new life, McCandless burned his money and abandoned his car, thus entirely separating himself from common plutocracy (Krakauer 29). While detailing a similar experience to McCandless’s, Krakauer discusses the feelings attributed to submersion in naturalistic living, “The accumulated clutter of the day-to-day existence- the lapses of conscience, the unpaid bills, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the inescapable prison of your genes- all of it is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose…” (143). McCandless’s animalistic lifestyle differs from  our current definition of human life. Rather than being devoured by the triviality of technology that clouds our lives, he came to focus on the vital necessities of survival. Regardless of how much information our laptops can output or how many contacts are stored in our smart-phones, these things are no substitute for sincere emotion, proximity to nature, or tangible experiences.

McCandless lived by morals that transcend the commonalities of others, both while in the wild and in society. Before leaving home, it was apparent he possessed a passion for nature that most considered extraneous. While on the cross country team in high school, he would lead runs without maps or technology, forcing other students to get lost in nature, and to push themselves, exploring their limits and surroundings (112). As a result, they were forced to focus solely on the moment versus any interruption by technology.

Despite the levels to which McCandless cared for his own well-being, he respected the lives of the forgotten and seemingly mundane as well. While his peers would indulge in parties, games, and drinking alcohol, McCandless  would go to the city to feed the homeless (113).Technology should not exist in lieu of compassion or human life. McCandless knew this; the respect he had for life journeyed with him to Alaska. After hunting a moose and failing to make use of the meat, he was devastated for taking a life without due purpose (167). His devotion to his lifestyle led to an admirable independence; “…He wanted to make it on his own” (159). He held to his dream; he disregarded urbanized society in a manner that took a level of passionate defiance. He allowed no detrimental belief instilled by society to deter him from what he believed was right; something most will never do.

McCandless connected to how life was meant to be. He ran from industrialism back to our roots. He had not forgotten that humans were still animals, creatures who had created a false world. His connection to nature was evident early on. At eight years old, he took his first backpacking trip; a few years later, he fed similar hunger by pleading with his father to continue climbing a mountain in excess of 14,000 feet (109). His unique desire for nature and abhorrence for what he came to define as an egomaniacal society fed his connection to deeper meanings.

The society McCandless fled has allowed itself to be ruled by a plethora of technology to help us live comfortably. Though modern inventions greatly ease the difficulties of survival, there exists no such need, as people have come to concentrate less on how to sustain life and more on meaningless technology. Wants have blended with needs. Life has become unnaturally easy, and detached from its origins. McCandless’s life offered sight to true revolution, and the meaning of living. He was able to focus on the essential, the relevant, and his dreams. Many have admonished his choices because they fail to recognize the validity in his reasoning. McCandless sought what we have given up on; he managed to secede from heartless technology. He reveled in exquisite nature and its inseparable role in our subsistence.

 Works Cited

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor, 1996.  Print