When I leave my office in the Humanities Building at around 5:00 p.m. and head in the direction of the front gate, one of the most painful sights I see is that the lights are on in almost every room I pass before I can get out the door.
There are seven classrooms along that wing of the Hakgwan (rooms 311 to 317). After 5:00 p.m., one usually still has a class in it. Four or five of the remaining six are almost always left untended—not closed down and cleaned up, but left untended with lights on, an LCD projector beaming onto an unwatched screen, and, in summer, air conditioning set around 18 degrees and running full blast.
It’s a shame. With energy costs what they are... With pollution, CO2 emissions, global warming... Even if energy costs were pennies, and pollution were cotton candy... How is it that people can spend so much time here and not be aware of such a simple way to make the place a bit better? In principle, my complaint is about more than turning off lights. It’s about neglect for the concepts of cooperation and the common good.
Cooperation. According to fairly consistent reports critics like corporate recruiters (not just troublemakers on the Internet), Ewha graduates don’t cooperate well. They say that Ewha graduates have plenty of skill and ambition, but they don’t get along with the other workers or fit into the organization. Some of that comes from the hyper-competitive atmosphere. Some of it also comes from the fact that Ewha students simply think too much about their own comfort and too little about others.
Turning off the lights. What could the university do with all the money it would save on electricity? Multiply what goes on in the Hakgwan by the number of other rooms around Ewha, and the savings from turning off lights would be substantial.
Cleaning up garbage. I could have begun this essay by talking about cleaning up trash; the basic concept is the same, it’s just that, personally, I’m not so much a neat freak as an environmentalist.
Throwing away the boxes, wrappers, and cans you bring to class would not only make the lives of the cleaning staff a lot easier, it would also make the rooms look much nicer for everyone.
Even the way you sit in a classroom. Most classrooms have desks arranged in pairs, and I have noticed that there are two common ways for people to seat themselves. One is to sit down and reserve a seat for a friend. The other is to sit down and put your bags, coats, and books on the desk next to you to reserve it for yourself, so no one will sit next to you. Maybe you comfort your feelings of shyness that way, but it also sends a hostile message to the people around you.
These complaints and suggestions may seem trivial, but I think the person one becomes is built from trivial, everyday habits and decisions. If you think about the people and things around you and work to make them better, you will build an identity as a member of your community, not just as an ambitious individual.
I cannot just walk by those rooms. I go in. I turn things off. I close the doors behind me. I curse the wastefulness of humanity. I feel depressed about the future. I feel: Things can be better.
If you can’t turn off the lights for yourself, please do it for me.
* Professor Peter Kipp earned his M.A.T. from University of Chicago.