She was leaning against the vending machine when The Teacher saw her.
“Shouldn’t you be in class?” The Teacher asked.
The Student shrugged. “Probably.”
The Teacher chuckled. “I’d like you to come with me.”
She stared at him for a moment, but then decided that resisting was useless. “Fine,” she exhaled, and she started to follow him.
“How have your classes been?” The Teacher asked.
“Boring,” The Student admitted, though she immediately regretted her honesty.
But The Teacher only laughed. “I understand how you feel.” They turned down a hallway, a hallway of the school that The Student had never walked down before. There were no doors lining the walls, and at the end of the hall was only a lonely elevator.
“Am I in trouble?” The Student asked, feeling confused.
“I don’t think so,” The Teacher shook his head. “I think it’s time that you learned how the world works.” He pressed the down button on the elevator, yet as far as The Student knew, there were no floors below them.
The Student asked, “Where are we going?”
The Teacher smiled. “Downstairs. There’s something that I’d like to show you.”
The elevator doors slid open. The Teacher beckoned The Student to follow him inside, and he pressed a button for a floor labeled “E”.
“What does the E stand for?” The Student asked.
The Teacher looked at her with another smile. “Everything,” he said simply.
The Student stared forward at the closing elevator doors, uncertain how to respond. She still wasn’t sure if she was in trouble or not.
“Why is it that you skip classes so frequently?” The Teacher asked. “Why do you suppose it is that you do so poorly in school?”
“Because I don’t care about grades,” The Student said. “Everybody just assumes that if you do well in school, then you’re going to do well in life. But I know that even if I were to ace all of my classes and go to a great college, I’m not guaranteed a good job. Academics don’t correlate to success.”
The Teacher laughed. “What do you want to do when you’re older that you feel academics can’t guide you towards?”
“I’m interested in the arts,” The Student told him. “Art doesn’t make money. It doesn’t matter how much people appreciate artistic talent, because it’s always the businessman that gets all of the profit.”
“If there’s anything that I can say about you, it’s that you’re very intelligent. Obviously grades aren’t equivalent to smarts. But aren’t you at all curious about the things that you could learn from your classes?”
The Student shook her head. “Anything that I learn in class, I can just as easily learn on my own. Besides, the other kids don’t like me. If I’m so smart, then why am I not even remotely successful?”
The Teacher smiled. “Just because a person is born intelligent, that doesn’t mean that they are assured success. That wouldn’t be fair to the lesser people out there. If you’re intelligent, then you have to prove it. You need to earn your success, just like everybody else.”
The elevator doors slid open, and The Student was overwhelmed by the sound of drilling, and power tools. Before her was a large factory, an unreasonable size for something hidden underneath a school. “What is this?”
“This is our factory,” The Teacher said. “Follow me. I’ll show you around.”
The two of them moved down sprawling assembly lines, and past hundreds of workers diligently constructing objects of all sorts. “What is it that they’re making?” The Student asked.
“Everything,” The Teacher told her. He pushed open a set of doors, revealing rows of people all working over benches with fine tools. They were clearly building something, but there was nothing on the benches to see.
“What are these people doing?” The Student asked.
The Teacher led her down a row, watching the workers with his face alight. “These people are building particles. Every particle in the world is created down here, and each individual one is given hours of thought and energy.”
“But there are billions of particles in the world,” The Student said in amazement.
“Billions of billions of billions. And every single one was built down here in this factory. Every mote of dust hanging in the air. Every stone along the sidewalk. Yet nobody ever stops to think about how long of a journey every stone has taken throughout the history of our planet. Some stones have traveled around the world twice over, and hardly a single person bothers to dream of the incredible places that a stone has seen. Even the air that you breathe was created down here, air that has traveled across the planet and back countless times.”
“I’ve never wondered about any of this,” The Student said.
The Teacher smiled. “Nothing in this world should be taken for granted. These workers have all put a lot of effort into making our planet.”
As The Teacher led her down more and more rows of conveyer belts and machinery, The Student asked, “Why do you suppose it is that people don’t like me? No matter how hard I try, I’ve never been able to feel like I fully belong somewhere.”
“People are liars and manipulators. People do bad things all the time, and often without regret. You shouldn’t feel a need to rely on them so much.”
“I understand that,” The Student said. “Sometimes I even dislike myself.”
“I can’t personally refute any of your flaws, but I can certainly question whether they are flaws in the first place.”
The Student narrowed her eyes. “How can you be sure of that?”
The Teacher opened another set of doors. “Let me show you what people are made of.”
Hanging from the wall was an enormous blueprint, taller than a building, depicting the human form. Beneath it, workers were busy drawing diagrams and typing at computer screens.
“Are they designing people?” The Student asked.
“They are,” The Teacher said. “Each person is assembled from the individual particles that were built in the previous room. In here, the humans are constructed piece by piece.”
“That sounds very difficult.”
The Teacher said, “It is. Humans are unbelievably complex. It would be easier to build humans as simple beings, beings that are able to go throughout their lives without a problem in the world, but complexity is more fun.”
The Student tilted her head. “More fun?”
“Yes. The humans that we build down here are designed to be flawed. If they didn’t have flaws, then what obstacles would they have to overcome throughout their lives? How could they grow if they didn’t have problems that needed solving? Without their flaws, people would only be walking calculators, and that wouldn’t lead to a very interesting life.”
“But flaws make life so much harder!” The Student disagreed.
The Teacher shook his head. “Think of all of the books that you’ve read, and all of the films that you’ve seen. The hero of the story always has an obstacle to overcome, a challenge to rise against. Would a story be worth your time if there was no conflict? Such a story wouldn’t be interesting. Fortunately for us, the world is interesting.”
“I suppose I can understand that,” said The Student.
The Teacher raised a finger. “Let me show you one more thing.” He guided her towards another set of doors.
In the next room, a tall computer screen stood before them, glowing with numbers and diagrams. The Teacher stepped up to a small console, and he tapped at the keys.
“What does it mean to be happy?” he asked her.
The Student took a moment to consider the question. “To not have any sadness.”
“But then what does it mean to be sad?” The Teacher asked.
The Student couldn’t think of an answer.
The Teacher pressed a button on the console, and a diagram appeared on the computer screen, a wavy line moving up and down. “Happiness and sadness coexist. You can’t have one without the other. How can you truly appreciate your happiest moments if you’ve never had any sadness to compare it with?”
“I guess you couldn’t,” The Student said.
“The way that we design our humans doesn’t allow for consistent happiness. If a human is happy for too long, then his or her emotional state will return to neutral.”
“But why would you do that? Why would you make everlasting happiness an unreachable goal?”
The Teacher gazed up at the graph on the computer screen. “How can a person grow and learn if they are happy all the time? They would have no motivation to improve themselves. Do you see this chart?”
The Student examined the graph. “It’s a wave function, constantly going up and down.”
“And that’s what life is. Constant ups and downs. For every moment of happiness, there is a moment of equal sadness. We wanted to be fair when we were designing humans. If the happiness and sadness always balance out, then no one person lives a happier life than another.”
“But I don’t want to feel sad in order to feel happy,” The Student said.
The Teacher replied, “As I said before, you can’t appreciate happiness without a proper comparison. Do you appreciate your ability to breathe?”
The Student shook her head. “I don’t think that I’ve really thought about it.”
“Hold you breath,” The Teacher said.
The Student held her breath.
“The longer that you hold your breath, the longer that your lungs wish to have more oxygen, and the better you will feel when you finally inhale again. Do you understand?”
With her cheeks puffed out, The Student nodded.
“So the next time that you have a very good day, take a moment to think about what you went through to be in such a state. For every good day, you have to suffer. You have truly earned your happiness.”
Again, The Student nodded.
The Teacher told her, “Breathe.”
And The Student did breathe. As she felt the air reach her lungs, she felt that she understood everything.
The Teacher led her through another set of doors, but this time there was only another elevator at the end of an empty hall. “The tour is over,” he told The Student. “I hope that you have learned something.”
“I have,” she told him.
The Teacher pressed the up button on the elevator. “This is why the world can’t be perfect. Perfection is no fun. If everything in the world were built to be flawless, then there would be nothing for us to fix.”
The elevator doors opened, and The Teacher sent them back up to the school.
“Flaws are wonderful things,” The Teacher told The Student. “So many great things have happened on this planet because people wanted to fix our problems. Without these problems to solve, people would have nothing to do, and nobody would lift a finger for anything.”
The Student nodded. “The world sucks because there’s no better way to have it.”
The Teacher laughed. “Yes, the world may suck, and your life may seem like a mess, but you can at least appreciate that it’s a wonderful mess, and it shouldn’t be traded for anything else.”
The elevator doors opened, and they were back within the school.
“I suppose you should get going to class, then,” The Teacher said to her.
In response, The Student smiled.