For a long time I had two people to look up to: my parents. Each one for a different reason: my father because he rose from nothing, was down to earth, was driven by one goal in his life and militarily disciplined; my mother because she had had an incredible (or so I thought) range of life experiences in a range of different countries, had a great cultural sensitivity, interpersonal skills, and a charitable personality. To your eyes, I might resemble some of what I here describe and you might say I’m a fair mix, but though I took over some of their features, I noticed a peculiar phenomenon happen during the process, which was revealed through my academic progress.
First, as a child, I was strongly encouraged to love and study mathematics by my father and one of my uncles, both of whom were mathematics graduates. In parallel, I felt a hunger for knowledge and a thirst for the world outside my household. I used to contemplate world maps and wonder what lied on the other side of the planet. I used to get lost in books about the history of the Ancient Greeks or the Kings of France.
When I turned 10, my grandfather introduced me to poetry and philosophy. They both seemed mysterious and spiritually elevated to me at the time, but I knew their qualities were different. Indeed, poetry seemed to me a transcendent world, philosophy about making the best decisions possible in this world. It was clear that I did not quite understand what they truly were.
In my French literature classes, I struggled significantly in my first two years of middle school. I was so entirely focused on math that my history classes (and therefore knowledge and understanding) began to suffer as well as my arguing skills and my essay writing. The reason for this was that I had shut my mind up in a world of my own, where I could think easily and freely, but which was not the whole of our reality. I had explored an infinitesimal corner of the reality I was so hungry to discover; yet I thought I was discovering the whole.
As I turned 13, thanks to my English teacher, I began to understand that the whole of reality is not made of the absolute certainties of mathematics. It took me a few years to fully understand what this meant and how to improve my intellectual curiosity and my outlook on the world. My mother helped me in this endeavour, for it required not only experience in the discipline, but also experience in the meanders of human life. Thus, unusual as it seemed, I learned to reason on what were not truths or falsehoods, but ideas, decisions, human characters, arguments, what you call “real life”, through reading literature. That is when I understood better than ever before that literature is not a fictional universe parallel to life, but that it is life. Willing to live the best life possible, it was only natural that I gain interest in the literary realm.
When I began high school, I gained even more interest in literature and began discovering its links to philosophy. My first year of high school was the year that shaped my education most. I learned a great deal, but that was a great deal that my parents or my grandfather had not taught me. I did not realize that I grew past them intellectually. The intellectual support they were able to give me in the previous years was beginning to be insufficient.
For a year I found refuge in my parents’ and grandparents’ opinions, for if they had grown intellectually, they were nonetheless strong-minded. As their opinions were peculiar, I thought they were reasoned and well-founded, until I discovered philosophy.
Until then I thought I had passed the difficulties of my middle school years and that I could understand literature, social issues, debates, all that involves non-mathematical uncertainties. When I discovered philosophy, I understood that its method was more different than I thought from the literary essays I had been used to. While I could raise arguments, philosophy was to teach me to be rigorous in my arguing and circumspect in my ideas.
To this very day, I still work hard to acquire these skills, yet I must never forget that they are nothing without artistic sensitivity.
– Noe Amellal