February 27, 2013

ATHANASIOU: “God Damn, You’ve Got to be Kind”

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“Katerina, I printed something today on one of the Mac computers at Mann, a three-page critique I wrote for my class. However, it seems that you forgot to logout of the printing on the computer, and it charged your account (I assume, as there was no dialogue box for me to input my netID, and your netID header is on my printout). As I see it, I owe you about 30 cents. I apologize for accidentally using your account. If you want recompense, please let me know. Also, please be careful next time. Always restart the computer, no matter what.” This is the email I found when leaving my 11:15 class on Thursday. I was so surprised that I read it twice. I couldn’t believe someone took time out of his or her day to find my email, send me a message and inform me of my 30-cent credit. In my experience, such considerate acts between two strangers are not so common at Cornell. This email reminded me of an earlier incident from last semester.

I was tabling for a Hurricane Sandy food drive in Noyes. Some students would smile and shake their heads, uninterested. Others would ignore our existence completely. But one male student was particularly irritating. He walked in with friends, en route to the gym. When I asked him if he was interested in donating, he smirked and curtly blurted out, “I’ve done enough.” Everything about the interaction left me uncomfortable. How could someone be so rude?

A few minutes later, two female students emerged from working out. Tired and sweaty, they took a minute to hear our spiel, which I appreciated. One girl didn’t have her wallet; she promised to come back later.

Her friend opened her change purse. “I actually had my purse stolen last night, so I don’t have anything more, but here’s a dollar,” she said.  I was amazed. Here was someone who could easily and explicably walk away, justified in not participating, yet she was the most willing. Her generosity reminded me that there are a lot of good things that happen on this campus.

I do believe that friends lend a helping hand to each other all the time. But our daily interactions with random Cornellians are not always as such.  Kindness is a surprise, an exception, while rushed impatience is the norm. On most days, we justify being snippy or unnecessarily cold to the person who bumped into us in passing because we are a) stressed b) sleep deprived c) moody or d) pissed about the weather. Because at times we are under overwhelming stress, we act as if it justifies being unpleasant.

More so than on the streets of New York City or in our future cubicles, Cornell is a contained community. One might expect that this would encourage a greater level of daily humanity, a need to treat each other with just a hint of decency or consideration, yet that’s not our everyday reality.

Since my freshman year, I’ve noticed a dominant individualistic culture on our campus. The desire for personal success permeates everything from our social lives to our academic careers. To me, our self-centeredness explains why Cornellians are considered “hyper-competitive,” and perhaps why this school is considered a “pressure cooker.” In our attempts to get where we want to be, we often develop tunnel vision. I think a certain communal consideration is forgotten. We forget to say “Good morning” or hold a door or simply engage that person quarter-carding on Ho Plaza in two feet of snow. Some of our deepest problems — everything from mental health, to academic stress, to harassment — might be improved by a dose of kindness. It seems simple, or almost juvenile, to suggest that “being nice” and “treating others as you’d like to be treated” will solve Cornell’s systemic, historic problems. But perhaps an altered order of daily conduct would produce more mutual consideration. And that could lead to mutual respect.

Katerina Athanasiou is a senior in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning. She may be reacched at kathanasiou@cornellsun.com. Kat’s Cradle appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Katerina Athanasiou