BY CHRISTO ELIOT
Despite the University’s best efforts to make everything under the sun available to its students (barring the obvious like firearms and crystal meth), there are some things that are mysteriously absent at Cornell. Some things’ absence can be painful like good, cheap and greasy Mexican food, puppies or sunshine. Others’ absences are not quite as bad: annoying high schoolers, annoying middle schoolers, annoying elementary schoolers, etc. That is not to say that everyone in those age groups is necessarily annoying or intolerable; there are certainly members of the younger generation who are now and/or soon will be real people tainted with cynicism, but most of the time they are generally annoying.
Disregarding their acne, fart jokes and affinity for graphic T-shirts (or analogous girl stereotypes), sometimes their inherently weaker minds can offer fresh perspectives with genuine insight. Think of how a first grade classroom sees a lot more sharing than the corresponding lecture halls, cubicles or prison cells, (I think). It is true that we become more jaded as we grow up. We also become less prone to wetting the bed … Is the trade-off worth it? I don’t know, but it is nice not having to change my sheets all the time.
These thoughts of younger people not having much of a presence was brought about by seeing a wild kid loose on Cornell’s campus; one caught my eye a couple tables away as I was eating lunch in Trillium. I had to do a double take because children don’t belong in Trillium. I guessed it to be about six years old.
Kids under the age of 13 (and a surprisingly large number of Cornell students) do not really understand most social constructs, so I would occasionally catch it staring at me and holding eye contact for just enough time to be uncomfortable. However unnerving and/or flattering this attention was, it eventually posed an interesting question at the lunch table: “What would a younger version of yourself think of the present you?” Scintillating conversation between several college-aged males ensued.
Personally, a much younger me — circa 1999-2000 — would be quite proud that I go to college, have kissed a girl and still remember most of what I learned about dinosaurs. A slightly older, adolescent me would wonder what went wrong and ask why I never became cool like we had planned.
The exercise of reflecting on what a past you would think of yourself now is about a lot more than wondering whether younger you would think you are cool or not. The approval or disapproval from past you is secondary to the reflection itself. It would be absurd to think that your values and personal goals will remain static as you grow older. The passage of time has made me older than too many Olympians to keep the dream of becoming a professional skier alive, (though I do still plan to declare myself eligible for the NBA draft this spring). Sure, the 12-year-old Christo might think I’m a square for readjusting my expectations about my financial future. But 12-year-old Christo is an undeservedly angsty Simple Plan fan, with a bunch of drawings of the same imagined future mansion and drum kit in his notebooks, so I don’t really respect his opinion.
Your younger self looks at you without any context. That is to say, your younger self is still you, and still knows you, but without the bias that comes from living your life right now. Looking at yourself through the eyes of the past may provide you with a more honest vantage point — one that doesn’t justify embarrassing behavior or make excuses for laziness.
A similar, and perhaps similarly beneficial, exercise would be to imagine yourself doing this same reflection, but years in the future. Rather than pondering what a younger you would think of current you, what would an older version of yourself think? The goal in college, of course, is to strike a fine balance between focusing on learning, which is allegedly why you are here, and creating memories that you will look back fondly on. For instance, finding meaningful involvement in a group or team on campus and drinking (maybe with that same group).
Besides the genesis of who I am as an individual, my younger self is not good for much. There was a brief stage in my life where I looked adorable in pictures, but that was short-lived and I never “went Gerber” as they say in the baby modeling business. Thanks to the insight of imagined past Christo, however, hopefully future Christo will reflect on present Christo and cringe a little less. And then all three of us will hang out.