I am a member of a family of five. Do you have any idea how expensive plane tickets are for five people? Too expensive. Because of this, my family drives everywhere. For example, we often drive to visit our family in Texas — the car ride times in at around 22 hours (thanks, in part, to many bathroom breaks and almost always some directional mishaps)!
Though now I have access to just about anything I could ever want through my cell phone, when I was a kid, there weren’t many entertainment opportunities on these long trips. In order to avoid fighting with my siblings, I often ended up keeping to myself and would spend hours reflecting on my life, my feelings, the world around me and so much more. Childhood me would have agreed with those of you who think this sounds more boring than watching paint dry. However, I now recognize that it exposed me to one of my biggest passions in life: trying to understand myself, and, as I grew older, other people.
One might wonder why I didn’t spend these car rides doing some stationary activity, like reading. Well, to be frank, I do not like to read — with one exception. Kurt Vonnegut, author of the famous novel “Slaughterhouse Five,” has an arsenal of novels that I am admittedly addicted to. Though his never-ending satire and wit definitely give him points in my book, I can pinpoint the passage that made Vonnegut the exception to my “no reading rule.” In his incredibly underrated novel “Cat’s Cradle,” Vonnegut delivers a poem that struck a chord with me regarding my passion for understanding:
“Tiger got to hunt,
bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep,
bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”
Six stanzas is all it took Vonnegut to explain what it has taken me 20 years to figure out — all we can do, as people, is try to understand the world around us. Some people want to understand science, some people want to understand math. Others, whom I am eternally indebted to, want to understand how to put different foods together to make them taste good. Personally, I want to understand other people.
I jump at any chance I get to further my understanding of what goes on in the minds of those around me, whether in the classroom or through firsthand experience. In my time at Carnegie Mellon, I have had many opportunities to do just this, and I am absolutely delighted by the prospect of conducting my own research on a topic that I have been passionate about since my days as a young child just trying to pass some time in the car.