Commentary

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor: In the January 29th issue of The Phillipian, the Editorial Board asked Andover students for, “More compassion, less complaining.” Citing the disaster in Haiti as a wake-up call, the editorial called for Phillipians to understand the new insignificance of their daily troubles when compared to the daily plight of those rendered truly unfortunate. I agree that such an understanding is necessary. However, we cannot understate the relative severity of the troubles we face as PA students. I move for recognition that affliction and anguish do not obey class lines. Indeed, those in poverty inherently deal with certain abuse. To insinuate that every aspect of the wealthy’s existence is painless is to pretend that true suffering is limited to a lack of purchasable opportunities or necessities. While living at Andover, we are protected by all the security money can buy. But we are still left incredibly vulnerable, even accosted, because we are taught to abuse ourselves. When I say that I find our difficulties worthy of attention, I do not mean that we should obsess over the trivial pieces or our lives, or overlook the peril of others. I merely believe that calling financial advantage an immunity to suffering grossly ignores that pain can coexist with privilege. At Andover, we feed students a diet of fierce competition, training them to constantly compare themselves. In every aspect of our lives, our numbers judges our worth: grades, test scores, leadership positions, track times. We employ sports that urge children to go days without full meals, frantically dropping their weight to perform physical exercise regimens suited to adult bodies. Either because of our lifestyle or the nature of the type of person who is admitted to this school, obesity is not a prevalent issue on campus. We teach our students to cut the time they allow themselves to consume food in order to increase the time devoted to homework, to get by on three hours of sleep a night and to ignore their friends in favor of academic progress. What’s more, we ask them—us—to do it all at the same time. We live with a mentality that says, “Go until it hurts, and when it starts to hurt, keep going, pull through and make it to the other side.” At Andover, we have access to three meals a day, but some of us go to bed hungry because we choose not to eat, or choose to forcibly remove what we have already consumed. We all have beds of our own and the ability to fall asleep safely, but a majority of us are not able to rest well or long enough to function. We do not work to support our families, but many of us have responsibilities that amount to a 60 or 75-hour workweek. I know too many kids who consider themselves normal—not depressed, not angry at the world, simply stretched to the breaking point—who know what it feels like to pick up the pair of scissors in their room and imagine what the blade might feel like against their skin, just to have one thing in their lives they can control. I know far too many girls that pick one: breakfast, lunch or dinner. I know too many Phillipians who have known real suffering and suffer because of the demands of this Academy. While we cannot take responsibility for preexisting mental health impairments, we might ask ourselves if the qualities that influence these self-mutilating behaviors contribute to a healthy environment for any child. I repeat: hardship knows no bounds, no rules and no class lines. Should we strive to be conscious of the problems in the greater world and make less of the little issues that trouble us for a second? Yes, as should everyone else, regardless of his or her social, educational or financial status. But we should not trivialize the problems of this school, the bad habits and breakdowns that are caused not by our students’ madness, but by our methods. The kids accepted here are young, impressionable and ambitious. We do not come prepared to place limits on how much we will physically and mentally give. On the contrary, we arrive here with the goal of giving everything we have to offer. Andover is a high school. It deals with teenagers who need a safety net, regardless of how mature they may be. At the very least, we should be encouraged to treat ourselves with respect. We might do well to recognize the difference between teaching self-motivation and self-mutilation, between self-discipline and self-denial. These are distinctions far too many of our students have proven they have not yet learned. -Julianna Meagher ’11