Sebastian is a Social Work Junior student at NEIU, I met him for a chat in the cafeteria.
What is Philosophy for you?
The very first thing that comes to mind is the classical philosophers. I took a philosophy class, and it’s just ingrained in me to imagine an old Greek guy with a beard as philosophy. But I think that Philosophy is the study of life, which includes everything, such as law, science, basic human interactions, to just studying existence. I think philosophy is such a massive spectrum of studies. Any field of science can be defined as philosophy. Perhaps a more refined approach would be the study of why.
Philosophy means the love of wisdom. What does wisdom mean to you?
Wisdom is the attained knowledge that a person has and is capable of giving to others. I think it is innate in every person. It is ever and will ever exist, no matter what society deems of them. If society deems them as having a disability or belonging to a different class or race. Everyone has some sort of wisdom. Whether it’s about how to make coffee, or the cure to cancer. Wisdom can take so many different forms.
Is it something you learn or acquire in life?
I think wisdom is attained through experiences. Experiences can be me sitting in that first philosophy class, learning Kant or Socrates. That is wisdom I attained through that experience. A barista making coffee, could have learned from someone else or their own experience how to do that well. That is their own wisdom, learning through the action of doing something. I think experience is the main thing.
Would you make a difference between knowledge and wisdom? Can a person be knowledgeable and not wise?
Yes, I think wisdom encompasses knowledge, but not the other way around. I can be knowledgeable in certain facts, but the true wisdom is to be able to share the information in a way that your passion and excitement about it can be seen, and you see the change in ambiance when that person expresses it. If I am passionate about it that’s what counts.
You think you’re wiser now than you have been a few years ago?
I think I’m wiser in certain aspects of my life. I don’t think you ever stop learning. I’m able now to better integrate my passion with the knowledge I have to really create that wisdom.
How did you learn that?
Experience, being unhappy, being upset, being tired of what my living situation was. And saying what is it that I really like?
I’m a social work major, which means a lot to me, because I really like helping people. The ability to find a career in a degree where helping people is the focus, that is my passion. And now I can gain knowledge to back it up a little more, that made a big difference in my life.
Did you try something else before that didn’t work out?
Yes, I was a business major before, and then I realized I didn’t like business (laughs).
What attracted you to social work?
I got out of high school, going to college, didn’t really know what I want to do, decided to go to business, and came across someone who just graduated from Loyola with a social work degree. This person was doing a job that I really liked, and was working in a field in higher education, helping people. A field that meant a lot to me since I’m the first generation in my family that went to school. I like education but I don’t want to be a high-school teacher.
That’s an interesting paradox… you like education but you don’t want to be a teacher?
It’s funny you should say that. When I was in high-school, I had one teacher, he was great, he really got people excited about what he was teaching because of his passion for it. The passion that backed up his knowledge made the ambiance different; I was excited to go to class. I may dread going to high school, but that class made it exciting. It wasn’t the material, it was American History, it wasn’t fun, but what was cool was the aspect of interaction. He could get us excited, get us talking, give me some sort of lesson I wasn’t going to get otherwise.
I also met that person who was and still is a real role model for me, she works at UIC right now. She is working to help keep students in school, when they might be considering dropping out, which I really hold value for. I realize the importance of education, but I also realize the social aspect of education and educational success itself.
What makes a person a good social worker?
To be a good listener, being sensitive to various social issues is very important. To be cognizant of all the differences, what we call in social work the risk and protective factors. As a first generation student, I have a lot of deficits against me, and I also have pros going for me. I have to realize the protective factors, the pros I have, and how it makes my situation better and worse than other people.
Also, just really being empathetic. To realize someone else is going through something, understanding that. To understand and talk about it.
I think the biggest thing… In our society, everybody likes to put their two cents “here’s what you should do”. We don’t know the best thing for someone else to do, because we’re not that person. Listening is the most important for a social worker, the next thing is acknowledging what the other person says and saying what can we do about it? Being calm, open to new ideas, supportive.
From these qualities, do you think there is a quality that you excel at and one that you need to work on more?
I think I’m ok at listening, I think I could do better. I noticed that when advising people, I have a hard time of letting go of that aspect of “here’s what I think”. I think is such a powerful phrase, it’s ingrained in our minds. I need to work on the aspect of I’m here as an aid to the person who needs help. I’m not here to make their decisions but I’m here to help them. I need to hone that line of what do you think you should do rather than this is what I think…
I’m not going to know the best answer, I can give you advice or ideas, we can even set goals together. Only you know what’s in your best interest.
You’re a 3rd year student, what advice would you give to a younger self just starting college?
I put a lot of thinking into this, and personally I don’t believe in regrets.
I think everything we do is going to impact us in a certain way, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t make those mistakes in the past.
I could have gone to social work right away and to avoid certain situations that caused me pain or scarred me, but I am who I am today because of that, so I think that would be counter-intuitive to my own development to go back and say don’t do this or that. I would just say keep on doing what you’re doing. To get to where I am today, where I am so happy there were a lot of bumps along the way, and I think I had to go through them.
Is there any event in your life that has been life-changing? Changed your perspective on life?
There are several that really crafted me into the person I am today.
This past summer I was given the opportunity to go to Cuba for two weeks. It was an amazing experience going to a communist country, to learn and understand it from a different aspect because I came with my own ideas of how this experience is going to be. I got to experience something that I was never really able to fully understand. How communities that would be deemed in the west as having so little - because they live in poor conditions compared to the American standard – have so much joy and happiness, appreciating the little things, and having a much greater appreciation of life in general, which I don’t see here. We’re obsessed with our phones, we’re obsessed with everything, and it’s crazy how the American work week works. We will work as much as we can until we retire, and then you’re going to have a minimum amount of money to survive until we’re dead. The aspect of leisure and enjoying life is so different. It was an amazing experience to witness that, and that was something that really impacted me and my belief system now.
It allowed me to better understand my life, and to be more appreciative of the things I have.