I just finished reading about the Ophelia Syndrome (from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet). Thomas G. Plummer describes it thus:
“It requires two players, a Polonius and an Ophelia. It is condensed into these two lines: “I do not know, my lord, what I should think,” and, “I’ll teach you. Think yourself a baby.” Ophelia does not know what she should think, and Polonius, reducing her to the stature of a baby, presumes to tell her. Polonius pontificates. He purports to know answers when he has none. He claims to have truth when he himself obscures it. He feigns expertise by virtue of his authority. But his real interest is power: he clamors to be a parent to other adults and exhorts them to become children to his word. Ophelia is worse than naive. She is chronically ignorant, chronically dependent, and chronically submissive. She is an adult who chooses to be a baby, one who does not know her own opinions and who would not express them to an authority if she did.”
Plummer goes on to discuss how college often enables students to acquire the Ophelia Syndrome. We want to know everything that will be on an exam so we can do well on it and therefore do well in the overall class. I know for a fact that this happens because my dietetics class is overrun with the Ophelia Syndrome. Every assignment we run to our professors so they can tell us how they want the assignment done. We ask questions about the exams so we can do well on them. We all MUST make an A. I try to stay away from asking my professors, but it doesn’t stop me from asking my classmates what they learned from asking the professors.
Plummer outlines ways to stay away from the Ophelia Syndrome.
Treatment 1: Seek Out and Learn From Great Teachers, Regardless of What They Teach
….regardless of what they teach? I’ve been focusing on my dietetics career so much that I often don’t think about other teachers teaching me something important. I have enjoyed other teachers, but I don’t regard them as teaching me great life lessons. This semester, however, I have started to think of this differently. The field study prep course has opened my eyes to a world outside of Life Sciences. There are so many other subjects that I could learn and that can really help me to think better. One of these is anthropology. I think I would really enjoy learning more about it. I owe a lot of this to Ashley for simply teaching us about becoming good researchers. She’s teaching us things I’ve never learned, but that I would like to know more about.
Treatment 2: Dare To Know and Trust Yourself
This is a hard thing for me to do. I never think I know enough information so I shouldn’t trust myself. Maybe if I begin to then I can learn more about how I think and why I have certain opinions.
Treatment 3: Learn to Live With Uncertainty
This one will be really hard for me. I hate uncertainty. This is why I love science. We (various scientists) research everything so that we can be certain. How can I be comfortable living in uncertainty?? Plummer emphasizes that we have to be uncertain of what we learn from others and that we need to research and learn for ourselves. Come to think of it, I am taught this in my dietetics classes. Our professors don’t tell us to distrust them, but they tell us to do our own research so that we can learn things for ourselves and become knowledgeable on important subjects.
Treatment 4: Practice Thinking from Different Points of View
This tactic will be interesting to try. It can also be very helpful for me to practice before I go to the field. If I can try and think like a different person now then I will be able to see things in many different ways in the field. I think I’ll try to think like someone who isn’t Christian while I’m at church. Or someone who is on a limited income while at the grocery store. Or maybe I’ll think like a male while I’m in my majorly female classes.
Treatment 5: Foster Idle Thinking
Plummer emphasizes that idle thinking can help us find new ideas. Better yet, the ideas seem to come to us when we aren’t focusing on them. Maybe this will help me come up with better ideas for my field study. Perhaps I can go for a leisurely walk and come back with ideas for different methods and research questions.
Treatment 6: Plan to Step Out of Bounds
This seems like a tricky step. How far out of bounds is safe? I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes so I’m scared to really step out of bounds. Particularly because my professors are all very specific on every assignment. Maybe I can just start to step out of bounds in my normal life and then try it once with my professors and see how they like it. If they don’t, then I’ll just stick to stepping out of bounds in my non-school life and staying in bounds at school.
I really enjoyed this reading. It has made me think a lot. It also makes me what to become an independent thinker so that I don’t succumb to the Polonius-types.