The most striking question from “Candide” was whether to view life optimistically, or to view life as a living hell. In the beginning of the story, Candide looks at life as an amazing gift, and believes the world is perfect. As he journeys through life he is physically and mentally beaten at every turn, and it appears that nothing can go his way. Even upon finally reaching his dream of finding Cungonde, he finds her to be slowly becoming more and more unattractive both inside and out. Through it all, he managed to hold on to his positive outlook on life, until encountering the misery of others, and eventually conceding to life as living hell.
The story made me question whether when forced to choose between looking at life as perfect, or looking at life as completely bad, which was the better option. I found myself frustrated at Candide’s inability to see the negative aspects of the world, but disappointed when he completely surrendered to the idea that life is terrible. When applying this to our current world, I found myself questioning what the students at Cristo Rey High School would say about the world.
Cristo Rey is a high school that only takes students who are living in poverty, and it is a high school that acts as a college prep high school. All of the students are required to do an internship, to give them exposure to the world beyond high school, and to help build their self esteem and professional skills.
My first day at Cristo Rey began with Ms. Hughes asking me to edit a student’s paper. The purpose of the essay was to tell a first person narrative about something that happened in the past. As I began to read the story I was struck by two things; the language and the content. The girl chose to write a story about her grandmother getting very ill, and how terrifying it was, and how difficult it was for her in the hospital. As a ninth grader, I went into the school with the assumption that the students would have an understanding of the past and present tense, but this was not the case. Almost every verb was written in the present tense, but in a sentence with past tense context. I tried to help the student by having her read the sentences out loud. If she couldn’t pick up on the error, I would then point to the verb and ask her if it was in the present or past tense. This seemed to work, and soon she was finding her own errors, and excitedly changing them. The entire time, the girl had a smile on her face, and seemed so excited to be learning and talking to someone about her writing.
I found myself feeling upset, that someone with such a desire to learn, because of their financial situation, or physical location, was not able to get the same level of education as I did. It was amazing to see the drive that some of the student’s had to succeed. I couldn’t help but ask myself if I was growing up in their situation, with the many educational disadvantages, if I would be able to remain positive and hopeful, or if I would look at the world in a constant negative lens at what I did not have.
If I had to choose between looking at life as all bad, or looking at life as all good, I think I would choose to look at life as all good. If you focus on the negative you can succumb to it, and loose hope for a better life. While it is not good to be naive, I still think it is better to be positive. Volunteering is one of the experiences that allows you to find a common ground between these two extremes. It is important to hope for positivity, and do everything you can to insure positivity, but it is also important to be aware of the negative aspects of life, and the struggles that others, as well as yourself face and will have to face in the future.