Dr.Sheppard, Thank You For Teaching Me About Philosophy

Over the summer, I was exposed to a different world and at some points I was even driven to insanity. My class on Philosophy was life-changing  and inspirational. In the class, Dr. Sheppard caused us to look at the world for what it is and to analyze our interactions within it. We all came to the class with our own personal backgrounds and experiences. However, he forced us on the first day to build a community, a family, within our classroom. We were no longer strangers to one another, but we were members of a family. We would would soon learn how to struggle, how to preservere, and how to overcome together, as one.  We would come to class on a daily-basis for a whole month interrogating and questioning our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. 

In many of our dialogues about the world, I found myself being stripped and naked. I was exposing myself to being criticized. In some instances, I felt guilty for the things I was questioning but I soon realized I shouldn’t feel guilty. I was doing what I should’ve been doing the whole time. I should know who I am. I should know how I get knowledge and why I believe in such and such. And if I find another truth then I should accept it without feeling the least bit of opposition. As Sigmund Freud stated, “You can’t unknow what you know,” and this is the reality that I now face. We sometimes want to turn back on our heels and try to escape the truth, but we can’t. 

In the class, we discussed “big things” as Dr. Sheppard would say. He told us that this world need people with “big ideas” and I didn’t quite understand that until I finished the class. We discussed: why philosophy, knowledge, freedom, and the meaning of life. I thought I had it all figured out. I was most certain in my heart that I knew about these various categories. I had taken courses in Philosophy before and most definitely knew about purpose. However, my assumptions soon turned into barriers until I allowed myself to rid itself of it’s arrogance. I thought I couldn’t be taught. In addition, I was just there to earn a grade for graduation. Unfortunately, I was soon faced with confronting my own identity. Why was I holding up a barrier between me and philosophy? In my past, I was constantly told I should avoid this field of study like the plague. This field of study can turn you away from God, from truth, from being rational, and from knowing what you already know. And I most certainly can say, I never felt so uncertain about many things until that class. I was looking at myself and constantly felt as if I was shattering over and over again, but it was well-worth it. I felt as if I had finally started living outside of dogmatic routines. 

One of my classmates came into class with a dollar-soda from McDonalds. At the time, we were studying about freedom. The questions that Dr.Sheppard posed us were the following:

1. Do we have freedom?

2. What does it mean to have freedom?

3. What do we do with our freedom?

4. What should we do with our freedom?

And for many of us, we sat there in amazement at these most fundamental questions. I felt inclined to to really sit back and listen to what would come in this section of the class. So, when one of our classmates came into class with her big soda from McDonalds, the professor told us that she had made a choice to buy a soda for one dollar at McDonalds and off of that soda, McDonalds probably made a 1000% profit due to the fact that it probably cost them minimum dollars to create a carbonated drink with syrup in a cup. And on top of that, we could easily take our one dollar and use it to help starving individuals who live with $1.25 a day according to the United Nations’ statistics. We all sat there in awe. There are millions upon millions of people suffering to stay alive due to poverty and hunger, but many of us use our money so frivolously without thinking. We sometimes get caught up in purchasing, accumulating wealth and becoming status-symbols that we forget that people are barely able to put food on the table for themselves and/or their families. So, when I realized this I stopped buying my daily iced-tea from McDonalds. Furthermore, he had us watch a movie called ‘Barakah’ by Robin Fricke. This movie made me cry and it caused me to think alot. So many times we think that we are isolated from the other side of the world, but we aren’t. Prior to the class, I would read about sweat-shops and think about big-corporations and the way they made their profits. In many instances, they would have low-wage paying individuals to create their products in factories that weren’t equipped for fires or mishaps, thus endangering workers. The most memorable instances of this was in Bangladesh. I remember reading this on my way home on the bus one evening. There was an explosion in a factory in Bangladesh and people were unable to get out due to a lack of safety-procedures in such instances. So, many people died…all for the sake of trying to provide for themselves and their families off of wages that are unimaginable for most Westerners. So, why do we support these corporations? Every time we buy something at a cheap price, we have to understand there is a cost to such a choice as a consumer. However, I raised the question to Dr. Sheppard, “What if you have no other choice but to shop at these stores because they are affordable for you?” and he told me “Things aren’t always black and white, but you keep thinking and analyzing”. He told us at the beginning of class on the first day that he wouldn’t have the questions for everything we would soon began asking, but apart of philosophy is asking those questions to further understand ourselves and others. 

So, the movie ‘Baraka’ was most compelling to me for many reasons. First off, the movie is completely silent except for the music that may be played. Yes, the music is most important in understanding the movie. There’s meaning to the music. However, as you watch the movie you quickly see how interconnected we are as individuals. And how interconnected we are with all forms of life. We can’t disregard animals or nature. We have to respect these other living entities. The movie showed the fast-paced life of Western-cultures, the rich-cultural traditions of ancient lands in Africa and the East, factory-farms and their cruel treatment of animals, capitalism and it’s consequences, religious-affiliations, war, poverty in India, and etc. You saw the binary-systems in our daily-lives and throughout the world. It almost became unbearable for me to watch because it showed how guilty and selfish I was in interacting with the world. Dr. Sheppard always told us that the world is a scary, confusing, and chaotic place and we have to figure out how to live in it. And the movie showed this.  So, where did I go after that? I started to reconsider the way that I lived. After the movie was over, we were dismissed from class. He didn’t say anything further, but dismissed us. Yes, we were quite disappointed from such a dismissal but it made us think. He knew what he was doing. We all left in a trance almost. We were speechless and contemplative. As I was walking to the courtyard outside, I was stopped by one of my classmates. She was interested in knowing how Dr. Sheppard lived in his personal-life and why he wore the same clothes daily. And I was interested too. He always wore his blue jeans, t-shirt and boots. So, one day after that she came to me and told me that Dr. Sheppard told her that clothing was secondary for him. I found this whole phenomenon on knowing about this particular professor very interesting. I’ve never wondered about the personal-life of any professor until then. In many instances, many of my classmates and I would talk after class about the things we had learned for that day. Once again, this was something I never really had done before because I would be too busy and had to do something after classes. However, this class made me stop and slowdown. I honestly didn’t care about other facets of life at this point in my life because this class was compelling me to know about myself to such an extent that I would go to sleep worried and intrigued about the next day of class. This class was forcing me to think outside of the box. 

In addition, we read the speech that Malala Yousefi gave to the United Nations in regards to education. As we read her speech, we thought how privileged we were in being able to sit down in a class when others all around the world are struggling to get an education. This young woman stood in front of the entire global-community to combat a problem not only in her country, but throughout the entire world. She stood firm upon a belief that everyone should get an education and those that prevent children and women from getting one is wrong. Her stance penetrated me deeply because her life remains on the line as she vocalizes her opposition to these gangsters that continuously seek to imprison people intellectually. And I am guilty of sometimes skipping class because I just do not feel like going, but as I write this I am sorry for not taking education more seriously. After that class, I was reading how many children in Africa would travel several miles and in tumultuous conditions to just get to their school. So, what was I doing skipping class because I just didn’t feel like it? May God forgive me. 

Another observation that we made was sort of life-shattering to me. We made the observation of how our lives are very much always on-the-go. We leave so many things to being unexplored. Many of the students around my campus, including all across the world are interacting with their electronics to the extent that they lose touch with the world around them. Dr.Sheppard was telling us how he would see so many students walking around campus with their cell-phones/iPads/iPhones and would accidently run into people and things because of this distraction in their hands. And I laughed because I am guilty of this. However, why is this funny? Why is it funny that we lose appreciation for the things right under our noses? We sometimes look so far off when the beauty lies right in front of us. Dr. Sheppard told us about Ralph Emerson and how we was a popular Puritan pastor in early America and how he came from being a pastor of Christianity and just became one to reflect on the concept of God. He felt that the concept of God was too restricting and that the beauty of God was manifested in nature. I felt this was interesting. As a Muslim, I sat and thought about this because Islam tells us to reflect and to read the signs of God through his creation. And throughout his creation, we can see the magnificence of Him. So, I truly understood felt connected to his new found reality of Emerson. In addition, our professor told us to do something different in our lives to escape monotony. He told us how he would sometimes go to the local museum and look at pieces of Buddhists’ artwork to reflect in meditation or how he would go bird-watching with his partner. So, in these different activities of his, he would find contentment and beauty in life. While the class was very much refreshing, it was life-changing too.

Throughout the course, we would be given quotes about the various sections we would be studying at the moment. It’s been two months now and I have found my life developing on a daily basis. In some ways, I have progressed and regressed but it’s all apart of the human-experience.  However, I have yet to stop seeking self-realization. Self-realization only comes through challenging yourself and your beliefs about everything. Many of us are very much afraid to question why we think the way we think and why we believe what we believe. I personally thought it was insane to believe that a person could live without indulging in philosophy, but I was quickly set straight because we do have a choice. However, the person that doesn’t indulge in philosophy will find themselves in a dark and possibly scary place.

Bertrand Russel said “The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason”. 

So, I felt most certain that I had an obligation to engage in philosophy the same way the people before us felt obligation to do so. It’s this feeling of actually engaging with one’s life in order to sort through the questions of life. Many people of religion/faith are sometimes quick to denounce philosophy as a whole, but I would ask you why? Does one’s analysis of personal beliefs on life, belief-systems, interactions cause one to step outside of dogmatic thought? Possibly. However, I can only concur with Russel in this statement because it speaks such truth. We sometimes are accustomed to the way we think because we were never asked or told to consent to the things we think we have a conviction to.  

As Socrates once said,“The unexamined life is not worth living”

So, when do we start examining? Why haven’t we examined? What are we afraid of? Sometimes we assume that philosophy will take us to a certain end, but this logic is flawed and a slippery slope. In my own experience, I came out a better person than how I entered. Yes, I struggled with some questions. Yes, I still have some unanswered questions. However, I am okay with that because philosophy isn’t there to always give answers. It’s there to provide you with things to think about. 

Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Awakening is not a thing, its a process”

This is exactly right. We have to quick always yearning to get a quick answer to a question that took years to even get to. We are all developing and gaining insight in different phases of our lives. We can’t expect to gain instant enlightenment. Everything takes time. We should enjoy the process. The process may be tumultuous, hard, bloody, sweaty, scary,but well-worth it in the long-run. And once again, in order to find truth(s), Schopenhauer stated that 

“All truth passes through three stages:

1st: It is ridiculed

2nd: It is violently Opposed

3rd: It is accepted as being self-evident”

So, this mentality that everything must come in an instant isn’t true. We have to seek out truth(s) carefully. We have to let time take its place. It’s not good enough to simply expect a quick answer. No, we must allow the process to unfold. We must be patient in this quest of figuring out life. It’s not until we acknowledge that a process must happen that we will reach this nirvana. 

And maybe this is something to think about as you’re out interacting with the world:

“Every person takes the limits of his or her own field of vision for the limits of the world” -Arthur

Schopenhauer

I’m not studying Philosophy in college or anything of that nature, but I have found myself being a student of Philosophy just in life. I have found myself being more open to knowing and gaining information. Yes, I do believe in religion, but I also believe in a way of life that allows me this choice. I am not one to say that Philosophy will not take you away from whatever truth(s) that you may hold, but I will say that it will bring you to a different place in how you view yourself, others and the world. I came into my class as a person with my own biases, background and experiences. I didn’t really have an agenda up my sleeves. I just came with assumptions of what I was to expect from the course, but I soon had to deconstruct my view(s) on philosophy. I came out a new person. I think I found my approach to religion even better than the way I came in. I am really in awe of my own religious-affiliation. I know everyone may not agree with my particular religion or way of life (Islam), but I find it to being my Truth. In dealing with things in life and seeing how Islam deals with various issues, I feel this form of liberation. How can philosophy do that? Well, It did. It caused me to think about God, who is God, and why I believe in God. Yes, I had to think deeply. We all do. Well, some of us. And this whole act of stripping yourself of what you hold dearly can be painful but this was necessary for me. I had to think about the things I hold as fundamental truths. And I would always come from class with unanswered questions and sometimes feeling confused about personal beliefs about the world around me. However, I would go to class everyday with a open heart ready to learn. You don’t have to believe that philosophy is isolated from you or that it doesn’t make sense. You just have to strive to understand and you have to put all of your cards on the table and just be honest with yourself. 

As Aurdre Lord said, “Change means growth, and growth can be painful. But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals”.

And I believe this was the message of the entire class that Dr. Sheppard did. He made us understand that change is growth and can be painful. And he forced us to understand that. We would listen and read various lyrics from songs, watch documentaries, hear stories, go over quotes, and read different philosophies. Why? All for the sake of discovering ourselves and trying to reconcile what we know and how we hold the world to be internally…within ourselves. 

So, remember to “be kind for everyone is fighting their own struggle”. 

My professor said he would travel with this quote in his binder for the classes he would teach on a daily-basis. I just thought…”what a wonderful way to think about life”. We need to keep such thoughts in mind as we travel in the world. We are all struggling in various ways and so as others. So, why not seek to be kind? Why not just remember that everyone is going through some personal issues? And that “love is the only way to grasp another human-being in the innermost core of his personality, “ as stated by Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. We are all going through this world together…sometimes feeling isolated. 

So, the last words our professor told us was this:

1. Stay open to the wonders of the world.

2. Make note of compensation

3. Be a voice for honesty and integrity

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9 thoughts on “Dr.Sheppard, Thank You For Teaching Me About Philosophy

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