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Stress and meltdowns — half the discussion

I’m encouraged by many recent efforts to bring student wellness issues at MIT into the light. Lydia K.’s blog post, and Katrina Ellison’s recent opinion piece in The Tech, called to mind times I have felt worthless as a student and a friend, alone in crowded hallways, and skeptical that tomorrow would be any better than today.

I agree that Katrina’s message “that one is valued, regardless of one’s achievements” is central to this ongoing discussion; my conviction that I am valued in spite of my circumstances has been a lifeline in dark moments. But is that message believable, and will it change a culture of “chronic stress”?

I think the answer depends on our fundamental beliefs about what gives us value, why we’re here, and where we’re headed. If these sound like lofty ideas best left to private religious practice or the philosophy department, then we’re only being honest about half of the problem at hand. The first half of the problem is that our professional achievements can fail us when we rely on them as the primary source of our value. But the second half of the problem is this: If we are encouraged to find our personal value in something other than academic achievement, what will that “something” be and why?

I hope that the MIT community will help students better engage with that question in our classes, in our living groups, and through student organizations. (The last time a professor challenged my reliance on academic success and suggested an alternative was freshman year!) We will inevitably reach different conclusions as to what gives us value here and now — the affection of friends, expectations of future success, living a moral life, the loyalty of family, our contribution to society, the love of God, or perhaps something inherent to humanity. But we have the chance to reach those conclusions consciously by examining and challenging our implicit beliefs in dialogue with each other. Will we take that opportunity?

Andrew W. Stuntz ’13