University studies make me invariably become aware of my own intellectual limitations. I am certain that this is a reasonably common experience. If by chance I would meet Socrates and tell him about my ordeal, he would smile and say: 'You are on the road to wisdom'. I would reply: 'That's great, Soc, but could you qualify that suggestion?' 'Sure thing, Sam. There are two attitudes to be discerned here: one of acceptance, the other of denial, and only the former will puts you on the path to wisdom. So, which are you on?' Whatever the answer, being confronted with one's own limits is not a pleasant awareness. Especially not when one's self-image is harmed by it, and certainly not when one is terrified that others will find out who you really are. And the temptation with regards to something painful is to run away as fast as possible. When this denial happens in the intellectual ambit, it is called the sin of intellectual pride, a very nasty sin indeed. Well hidden behind the lofty aspirations to academic excellence lies the illusion that only academic success and the admiration of one's peers and teachers is what makes one a good person. As a result, when a student who suffers from this ill is confronted with his or her own limitations, he or she tries to stow away these limitation and forget about them.
How can we recognise intellectual pride in ourselves? Unfortunately, intellectual pride makes us blind for our own shortcomings. As a result, we need some kind of shock therapy to unmask this illusion of self-sufficiency. Sometimes it is a word of a good friend, or sometimes a very bad essay. Most of the times it is just a prolonged feeling of unfulfilledness that makes us question our assumptions about ourselves. Yes, it is painful, but it could be wholesome as well. For only when we lose sight of ourselves (this is what we can call the attitude of humility), can we see again the true purpose of study. Not self-glorification but service of others.
One day, when I was feeling very unhappy with myself again, I suddenly remembered vividly one of the reasons of why I have become a Jesuit: in order to help others find God. And suddenly I found myself free from the anxiety that had been plaguing me for quite some time. I knew again why I was studying and I remembered again that I had no real desire to be admired by others. On the contrary, the aspiration that led me to this way of life was that of seeing other people leading a fulfilled life.
Did Mrs. Walters come up with an answer for Jenny? No, and neither did Jenny. And that's all right. I suppose education will only obtain its full meaning when it is put at the service of others, when its fruits can be seen in the smile of our neighbour. It is helpful as a student to be reminded once again of that simple truth