Walking down my dorm hallway, I briefly looked up, dragging my languid gaze away from my feet and the overloaded laundry hamper I was hauling, and then I stopped. The scene was generic, a view that I see frequently, and do not have a particular feeling towards. But, on this given day, I stopped because it looked nice. The leaves were lit in various hues of orange and red, and the sky was a pleasant, peaceful light blue haze. It was a small, easily unnoticeable moment, but by choosing to pause and take note (and snap a quick photo), I added a small moment of recognition and gratitude to my otherwise ordinary day.
Changing course for a moment, I want to offer the idea that modern technologies have encouraged individuals to unlearn empathy and embrace geographical and cultural status quos in a manner that is simultaneously new and wildly archaic. What do I mean by this? I mean that technology, a smartphone, for example, empowers people to show highlight reels of their lives — often choosing “highlights” by deciding which picture or statement is most acceptable and well-received within the audience they have following them or the community they are a part of — which misrepresent reality and often do not leave space for authentic gratitude or recognition. While this dynamic is somewhat new — the process of posting photos to Instagram, words to Twitter, or videos to YouTube — the psychology and habit mirror somewhat archaic norms. For instance, history books, particularly outdated ones that underrepresent, falsely represent, or simply do not represent minorities, commonly use broad stereotypes to describe groups of people: the Civil War is taught to middle school children as a battle between liberal, anti-slavery people in the North and conservative, pro-slavery people in the South. I can say this confidently because I was one of those middle school kids who was taught the Civil War that way. While this analysis is correct in very general terms, it falsely narrates the era by failing to account for all the misfits and it does not personalize racism or racial dynamics in America. This leaves kids with a loose understanding of the event, and little recognition of the day-to-day realities for many black people, and POC, in America and even abroad. This depersonalization and falsehood have been historically normalized, and while history books still widely fail to tell an accurate account of American history, technology has added more depersonalization and falsehood to people’s lives. Technology, social media, in particular, has given us the means to communicate with more people than ever but in a way that depersonalizes the conversation and encourages “picture perfect” over legitimate.
By noticing a nice landscape, I did not change the world, but I improved my day and it inspired inner reflection. Today, and every day, I encourage you to slow down and recognize when you are misleading yourself or when other people are misleading you. Be a lifelong learner; read information and news, and think about it for yourself before you lend credence to the words of a person you have never met. In a world that encourages romanticization as a means to escape a subpar reality, focus on recognizing your abilities, your potential, and your network as a way to improve reality. You are the only person you spend your whole life with; get to know yourself well and practice gratitude daily, it will make you a better person and nicer human being.
Washington and Lee University '25