On Ash Wednesday I asked a random group of undergrads to name the one thing that would be most difficult to give up for Lent. I received a total of 135 replies. Some of the items they mentioned might be surprising. Others might not. Keep in mind that I did not ask them to disclose their own sacrifice, but what they thought would be the toughest item for any college student to relinquish for 40 days.
Let me preface my analysis of the data by saying that I have always given young adults the benefit of the doubt. I resist the notion that all college students think alike. In fact, before I started reading their replies I told myself I shouldn’t be surprised to find 135 different answers. I give students credit for being free thinkers and I presume they cherish their own individuality and embrace diversity. On the contrary, what I discovered was that most think alike, at least when it comes to self-denial during Lent.
The result of this investigation was far from 135 different answers. Due to many repetitions, their list boiled down to only 22 items. Likewise, whenever there was repetition of an item, more often than not they used the exact same word as their peers. This is significant because the survey was completed privately, not as a classroom exercise. They did not exchange thoughts beforehand or break into small groups or have any other opportunities to find out what their peers were thinking. They had to electronically submit their own answer first and only then could they see and compare their response with others. Below is the complete list of all 135 answers reduced by repetition to 22 items.
Question: What would be the most difficult thing for a college student to give up for Lent?
Answer: 135 items listed from most frequently to least frequently cited:
26 social media
20 fast foods
9 bad sleep habits (like staying up too late or not waking until noon)
5 laziness (which included not studying and not exercising)
5 playing video games
3 watching television
2 my cellphone
2 cursing and using bad language
1 my music
1 a particular treat that I like
1 taking the stairs, not an elevator
1 stop living an unexamined life by reflecting on how each day went
The fact that almost three-quarters (73%) of all 135 answers combined into the top seven items can be interpreted in at least two ways. Either most college students do think alike or most college students really don’t have many things they can give up for Lent so the list is limited and repetition is inevitable.
What item catches our attention? I assumed that giving up their cellphone for Lent would be among the top three items listed. But it was only mentioned twice out of 135 replies. What does this mean? I doubt that its appearance near the bottom of the list means turning off their cellphone for Lent would be easy. Rather, I suspect that the very idea of giving up their cellphone for 40 days never even entered into the minds of most. I believe that for some people, perhaps all people but for college students in particular, the very idea of being without their cellphone never occurs to them. Going cell-less would not be a penance but an impossibility.
Their first- and second-place mortification items, social media and fast foods, respectively, are worth a closer look. Fast foods consumed on a regular basis constitute an unhealthy diet at best. Even college students admit that they make this poor choice out of convenience, knowing it is not good for them. But a jelly doughnut is not the favorite on the list. That honor goes to avoiding internet websites. Since surrendering social media for 40 days is the frontrunner, we might infer that this would be an even healthier surrender than junk food. When asked to comment on their choice, students acknowledged that social media does not have a positive impact on their spiritual progress. Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Tik Tok, LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitch, Twitter and Facebook, to mention some of the leading apps, are, by the admission of our young adults, not healthy for mental or moral development. They describe them as addictive, time-consuming breeding grounds for jealousy and fierce competition in external appearances like fashion rivalry, which in turn leads to the practice of insulting others’ photos to the point of bullying and character assassination.
Conclusion. The majority of college students testify that, although social media would be the most difficult mortification for them to perform during Lent, this would also be the most beneficial and productive 40-day sacrifice they could perform for their growth in mind and soul.
Holy Homework. Let’s create our own list of the top three things we would find most difficult to “give up” for 40 days and attach it to a place (keyring, computer screen, fridge, dashboard, wallet, zippered pouch, mirror, etc.) where we will see it every day until Easter.
Comments can be sent to: FatherBobPagliari@Yahoo.com