November 30, 2014

BANKS | A Geezer’s Diatribe

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By AMIRI BANKS

Some time ago, 900ish words wiped out work as a contender for priority in my mind. They continue to encroach on sleep’s territory, handily winning each battle. Writing refuses to release its grip on me, though I should have foreseen my newfound obsession with these little printed symbols. Whatever discontent led me to write about love of all people, or happiness, did not die with the birth of any one piece. Expecting a few columns to placate my thoughts was a fool’s prospect. Fortunately, about 27,000 more words separate me from graduation.

All other forms of expression aspire to wield the power of words. Using an image, the artist becomes a storyteller. Using an instrument, the singer channels a poet. Using a little of everything, the filmmaker imitates an author. Words reach into your brain and — like dreams — defy the laws of reality. But unlike a dream, which dissipates rapidly when you wake up, words do not go away. A book cannot be unread; a speech cannot be unheard.

Naturally, great writers use words to garner empathy and attention from those who read them. For me personally, writers embody a need to address paucity. Writers can tap into latent potential, and unveil all those thoughts and scenarios few people possess the courage to articulate out loud. They constantly seek to fill some perceived void in pre-existing art, simultaneously inspiring and being inspired. Every author, ideally, should add fresh perspective, broaden the creative scope of possibilities, or increase intellectual depth.

Words are the best outlet for writers, and for old souls like me who sit around all day spewing complaints at anyone who’ll listen. On that note, I would like to shift from the topic of words and actually put them to good use. If my tone resembles that of a critical old man, I don’t apologize. The column has a title for a reason, and my tirade begins with a kid in my Relaxation and Stress Management course. So let’s just jump right into what happened.

One day, our instructor began reading a short story about two men. As if hell-bent on validating the negative stereotypes about inattentive young people, my fellow student immediately whipped out his phone. He probably absorbed zero percent of the story’s intended message. What was the message, you ask? One man approached everything with a positive and engaged attitude, and ended the day happy and productive. His experiences did not differ in any way from the other man, who grew increasingly cynical, frustrated and disinterested as the day progressed. The irony of my fellow student’s apathy, particularly in the context of the above story, left me dumbfounded and livid.

We’re not talking about a huge lecture, where you can hide behind large numbers. We’re not even talking about an obligatory section, where perhaps you don’t always feel like being the active and excited participant in discussions. He chose that class, I presume, with the intention of not caring. Yet in his blatant disrespect of Lewis (our instructor), he also chose to waste money and time. He misused someone else’s opportunity to actually learn how to relax and manage their stress.

Too many students lack gratitude and awareness. Awareness of other human beings, and of the world around them, and of the blessings conferred upon them. I’m not religious enough to claim God put me here. However, I am a firm believer that everything — and I mean absolutely everything — happens for a reason. To that effect, not one second should be underappreciated. Even a PE class that seems irrelevant in the grand scheme of things holds irreplaceable value.

An unhealthy mentality shift has occurred within society, particularly in supposed bastions of intellectual engagement like colleges. And that’s not some bullshit I concocted; people are studying this change, as well as its ramifications for success and well-being. I’m not an expert on the subject, so I should take a moment to credit some of the people who have most recently informed my opinions or inspired me to speak on them. They include, but are far from limited to: Lewis; Amanda, the instructor of my Meditation class; Shawn Achor, who speaks on positive psychology; Jay, the kindest facilities worker you’ll ever meet and Hazel, the sweetest dining hall greeter ever, who has taken great pains to memorize and pronounce my name.

Back to the issue at hand though. What could have possibly been important enough to necessitate my peer’s actions? Maybe the same kinds of priorities that cause people to care more about the extent of their social popularity than what they can accomplish here. Speculation about things that don’t matter can consume your precious time on Earth. I try not to concern myself with the thoughts of every perceived hateful individual, or every potential interaction or every possible critic. I can only focus on how I respond to my most immediate surroundings. The more time you spend trying to bear the weight of the world, the less reasons you’ll find to be happy about the sliver of the world you do have access to.

My 900ish words are up today. How an old man gained control of an opinion column, I’ll never know. But like any old man, my words won’t stop coming until I’ve been rendered mute or die. When death arrives, I hope I will have managed to not ruin anything I’ve touched. If my brief existence actually had a positive impact on someone, even better. I especially don’t want to have wasted my life on a phone.

Amiri Banks is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at abanks@cornellsun.com. Honest A.B. appears alternate Mondays this semester.

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