As my time at the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program in Washington, D.C., comes to a close, I find that my experience of Hillsdale in D.C. is different from life on main campus. Though the things I’m reading and writing about may be comparable to a Hillsdale class, these classes are located in the heart of American politics. The culture is fast-paced and focused on efficiency — despite the bureaucracy being so slow.
During my semester in D.C., I’ve come to realize that choosing what many would consider a less efficient way of doing things for both my own sake and the sake of the community might create a more meaningful life. After spending the summer in Hillsdale, and then moving to D.C., the difference between the two has only shown me that this principle can lead to a happier life wherever one may live.
Over the summer, I lived in the Paul House with four other girls. I lived a few minutes away from friends who lived in town. We cooked together, ate together, and lived a relatively simple life — nothing exciting or as fast-paced as the city. Efficiency, as a principle which subordinates our time and efforts to productivity, was not really on my mind. This isn’t to say I sat around and did nothing; in fact, I read more than I ever have in a summer. But these choices weren’t dictated by a desire to consume or produce.
During that time, I read Wendell Berry’s “Hannah Coulter,” which tells the story of a woman who grew up farming and dies farming. Her time as a parent, however, comes when family farming is quickly fading away and being replaced by agrobusiness, and she must face the prospect of her children going to college and abandoning their family’s way of life.
The life of Hannah Coulter rests upon the assumption that to stay put is almost always the better option, and not just for its own sake. The passing on of tradition, heritage, and family narrative works best when the same family lives and works on the same land for generations. But it’s all terribly inefficient.
Berry recommended a different way of thinking about life, and it’s not that everyone should become a farmer. It is that efficiency, which inevitably leads to total independence, is not the path to adulthood. Instead, the right way to live life might be to live near your parents and shape your life around your friends and family, not your career. Planning out every hour of your day might not result in a day well-lived.
This approach to life looks different for different people and different circumstances. Maybe you should plan out your day if you have a great deal of things to do. Maybe you should move to D.C. for that job opportunity on Capitol Hill. But the principle in mind should not be how can I be both efficient and independent — throwing off childhood dependence — but rather, how I can be successful while still engaging realistically in and contributing to my community.
Living in D.C. means I can wake up on a Friday morning after a busy week, and I’m not sure if the week has even begun yet. Confused and unattached to the week, it’s only until Friday night that I feel I’ve truly woken up to it.
As humans, we look for signs in our lives which point us to a greater, deeper reality. Life can be both busy and full of these signs. But if we choose to make efficiency the priority, these signs, and a deeper reality, are lost. If we choose our own independence over our involvement in a community, we deny the interconnectedness of reality.
Living in Hillsdale after graduation or following your friends elsewhere to form a community may be better than taking the most profitable or prestigious job in D.C.
Even if you can’t move back home or live in a community of friends, shared life is something every human person needs. At the root of our existence is the existence of another: God. Dependence is a fundamental part of our nature. When we choose efficiency by default, we create an independence from reality by chiseling out our own narrow chunk of it for our success in achieving said efficiency. This denies our existence as dependent.
In D.C., studying with other students in the Kirby Center reminds me that living life independently and autonomously in the city is not a real way to live. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good community while living in the city. But you may need to actively seek out friendship and community since the city does not, by the very nature of it being a city, lend itself naturally to community.
Doing an internship, taking classes, having a social life, and finding time for leisure becomes a constant juggling act. To sacrifice the interconnectedness of all of these things for efficiency’s sake would be to lose their meaning.
Living life inefficiently or with your friends doesn’t mean you can’t live in D.C., or work in politics. It just means that your life will be a series of sacrifices to the community regardless of what you do.
The framework with which you view your job should not be defined by efficiency, but rather by an understanding of the whole of yourself, your community and ultimately, reality.
At Hillsdale, the community is centered around learning and educating the soul, and politics is another subject to study. Even though we are in D.C., we can’t forget that we are still part of a community of students here, and that this community is meant to nourish both us and the city we live in for a semester.
Emma Cummins is a George Washington Fellow and a junior studying politics.