Aspiration is better than self-esteem. Many of us were serenaded in childhood with lyrics like this:
Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are
Or would you rather be ...
Each stanza presented something one might rather be – a mule, a pig, a fish, or a monkey. But why be one of those, when by learning and honesty, you could be swinging on stars? The images of swinging on a star and carrying moonbeams in jars cast a spell on my imagination. The catchiness of the tune didn’t hurt either; from time to time I still find myself humming it.
Though it’s more sonorous, the fine motto inscribed over the West Entrance of Norlin Library at the University of Colorado, Boulder, conveys much the same encouraging spirit: "Who Knows Only His Own Generation Remains Always a Child." Should we retain the innocence of childhood? Yes! But its ignorance? No!
Not everyone considers the motto so fine. At a website for millennials, one University of Colorado student writes that “It promotes knowledge beyond one's self and one's immediate surroundings, and that's totally cool.” But it “feels like I'm constantly being scolded and berated by my library, which keeps calling me a child.” The slogan “turns the library from a sanctuary of study into a bully ... who keeps heckling me across the Quad. Come on, library, don't be like that. This is what I see when I look at my library.”
Here is the good news: The aspiration expressed by the Norlin Library motto is not dead. When I read it to my own undergraduates, they thought it was great. When I asked them what they thought of the young man’s reaction, they pleaded “Don’t judge millennials by him.”
One of them expressed the very thought with which I had planned to end this post: It is hard to see why anyone would resent a gentle exhortation to rise beyond childhood, unless he had no intention of doing so.