Bernie Cantens, Professor of Philosophy
What is your role at the college and what is something many may not know about the work you do?
I teach and do research in philosophy.
My favorite spot on campus is…
My favorite spot on campus is the Comenius building. It is such a beautiful landmark, and I feel very fortunate to have my office in the first floor with a great view of the College campus.
What’s your favorite Moravian College tradition?
My favorite Moravian tradition is the Christmas Vespers. The entire experience is incredible unique one for me.
One thing that many of my colleagues don’t know about me outside of my Moravian College responsibilities is…
Many of my colleagues don’t know that my original degree was in Accounting. I went on to get my Masters in Accounting and my CPA. I worked for several years as an auditor at Coopers & Lybrand. My true love was philosophy but studying philosophy was not a real option for me at the time. As a first-generation college student, my parents strongly encouraged me to complete a degree in something that would (according to them) “secure my financial future”. However, my desire and aspiration to be a philosopher was too strong, and, after several years hating the corporate life, I made the bold decision to return to school and complete my degree in philosophy. I share this because I find similar stories and situations among many of our students, as they struggle to make career decisions at such an early age of their lives. I hope, as college advisors, we can embolden our students to pursue their goals and not anyone else’s.
My typical weekend would go something like this:
My weekends are boring, and I love them that way! I enjoy waking up early, having my coffee, and getting some work done.The afternoon is mostly devoted to spending time with my family and friends. We like to prepare big meals and have late lunches. I love to have a siesta, if time permits. Most evenings are spent with family, friends, and my adult children (when they are in town).
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not on campus?
I love to travel and my favorite trip is my annual summer study abroad to Spain. When I was a student, I studied in Spain, and I fell in love with the culture and the life style there. Growing up in a Cuban home, I found that I shared many of the traditions and customs of the Spaniards. I love returning every year with my students, so that they can experience what I experienced when I was in college. It changed my life in so many ways (not to mention that I met my wife while I was studying there). It taught me new ways of seeing the world, and to appreciate and value different customs, traditions, and world views.
What’s your favorite color?
For some reason I gravitate to blue things, but I have no idea why!
Who is your hero? Why?
As a student, I was heavily influenced by the work of Plato, especially his Socratic dialogues. In my first philosophy course, as a freshmen in college, I read Plato’s Apology, and this was the work that had the greatest impact on me as an undergraduate. In this dialogue, as part of this defense, Socrates’ tells the Athenian jury that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. For me, this represented the spirit of philosophical inquiry and something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
I have received a lot of good advice in my life. One piece of advice that comes to mind is that success is doing the best that you can do. Society puts a lot of pressure on individuals to be successful, and it tries to impose its own standards on us. So it is important not to fall into the trap of accepting society’s standards of success. We should recognize that everyone’s talents, limitations, and circumstances are very different, including our own. Any conception of success presupposes some set of values and priorities, and these will be different for different people.
What are some things you would you tell college graduates that could help them for the rest of their lives?
I would tell them to “know yourself”. Having knowledge of oneself will lead to sincerity, humility, and authenticity. These are virtues that will help people live happier and more satisfied lives; it will avoid pretentiousness, trying to be someone that you are not, and frustration. I would tell them to “ask for help”. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to communicate your problems and to seek out people that can help you. I think that when you do this, you will be surprised at how generous and caring people can be.
What sound do you love?
The quietness and stillness of an early morning, with the chirping of birds in the background. I am not sure why this feels good; perhaps because it represents the beginning of the day. I like beginnings and dislike endings.
What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
What makes you happy?
I am a very simple person. Two things make me happy: (1) doing philosophy and (2) being with my friends and family.
If there was a movie produced about your life, who would play you and why?
Probably the actor and playwright Carlos Lacámara. He is a Cuban-American whose parents where Cuban exiles. He shares a similar background with me in many respects, and he has written a lot about the Cuban diaspora community. I am sure that he could relate to many of my experiences growing up in a home where no one spoke any English or understood any of the American customs and traditions.