Lots of the undergraduates on campus really want to get married. They see other couples as happy, and many of them see schoolwork as meeting a bunch of requirements to get a grade and move on. I’m not saying they don’t care about learning: quite a few do. But I suspect it is hard to disassociate learning from the expectations of others.
Once one sees learning in that light, it becomes a path to honors of sorts. If you’re happy learning, then, you’re someone pining for a lesser good than ultimate happiness. Isn’t there something better than meeting expectations and being sort of happy doing it?
It’s hard to tell people to wait and slow down a bit. It’s hard because people their age do get married and seem very happy. Some actually are, even. And serious thinking and good ideas are obscured by the conventions used to bring them forth. Moreover, serious thinking and good ideas aren’t things you really persuade people of. As mystical and crazy as it is, at some point people have to think for themselves and realize what’s important.
If I had to do my undergraduate years all over again, I’d aim to master one or two books. It’s not a foolproof approach. Some students fall too in love with a book; many end up glossing it with no real conviction, with a sense of false mastery. But I know one of the most important things we do is give a sense of what credible opinions are and how they can be developed. That sense comes partly from learning to listen to another voice and trying to see issues as he might see it, trying to work out the limits and promise of a line of thought. The idea is that one is never speaking alone in the world. There are always other, concerned voices that know more precisely because they start from the assumption they don’t know.