The follow excerpt is from a sermon C.S. Lewis preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford University in Autumn 1939, thus the title, “Learning in War-Time.” Even though we are not on the brink of WWII, we do live on the edge of precipice, making Lewis’ perspective on higher education just as relevant now as it was then.
But the peculiar difficulty imposed on you by the war is another matter: and of it I would again repeat, what I have been saying in one form or another ever since I started—do not let your nerves and emotions lead you into thinking your predicament more abnormal than it really is. Perhaps it may be useful to mention the three mental exercises which may serve as defences against the three enemies which war raises up against the scholar.
The first enemy is excitement—the tendency to think and feel about the war when we had intended to think about our work. The best defence is a recognition that in this, as in everything else, the war has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one. There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarrelling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come. There are, of course, moments when the pressure of the excitement is so great that only superhuman self-control could resist it. They come both in war and peace. We must do the best we can.
C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” The Essential C.S. Lewis (New York: Touchstone, 1986) 375-376.