October 4, 2015

BANKS | Just Shedding a Few Disruptions

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This column began as a disruption. Disruptions, those problems that can’t be solved immediately, also can’t be forgotten through passivity. I think the creators — the comedians, artists, singers, musicians, filmmakers, writers, sculptors, dancers and painters of the world — are the people who must constantly disrupt themselves or seek out disruptions. They refuse to be at ease for more than a moment, and spend most of their lives checking in on everything that occurs around them or inside of them. They take a single second in their life, wash it in contemplation or bliss or discontent, then wring it dry until their creation sputters out and become art.

The most tormented individuals tend to be the more prolific creators. Popular comedians have repeatedly stated that they derive much of their humor from past places of darkness, or from the darkness they’ve witnessed in others. And I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded how many famous writers and singers have had tragic lives. Of course, that’s not to say that creators must be unhappy or that creation is useless in the pragmatic, emotionless world of college.

When you arrive at college, you are less a college student and more of a “high school student plus three months,” as my professor once said. Before long, you begin to comprehend where you fit into this hectic world. You are at the bottom, and you are hungry, so you learn from those above you. Over time, you begin to acquire positions, responsibilities and powers, gradually seeing yourself as more and more on par with those former superiors. At some indistinguishable point in time, you realize that the duty of mentoring a younger generation now falls on your shoulders. You have arrived. You relish the moment, knowing full well that you will soon have to graduate and start all over again.

We often tend to perceive life as a never-ending set of steps towards some next level. You  become team captain, an organization president, peer advisor, T.A., upperclassman mentor, tutor etc. But these identities represent a socially constructed status, one that holds validation only within the context of that particular group. Because of this, you must balance two roles: The role of the autonomous individual who possesses a wealth of knowledge, and the role of the still-naïve dependent. As an upperclassman, you may find that you will no longer be able to discern the difference. The more power you attain, the more it should become evident that there really is no hierarchy of power. There never was.

The people whom you want to help don’t necessarily know less than you, and may be able to offer you as much as you can offer them.  But the people who appear to be on equal footing with you — whether by deed, position or ability — are just as likely to know far less as they are to know far more, and this is what scares the hell out of competitive folk (read: all Cornellians). We want to believe that we do in fact know more than others on our level. The reality, though, is that we only know something else. And this something goes hand in hand with eliminating the disturbances from your life. You cannot exist as a living, thinking being on this planet without a something.

I used to believe my something was science, but I’ve found that science clashes often and intensely with my terribly, shamefully and irredeemably lazy nature. Now I realize that it is writing about science, and about the power of art and about navigating communities in general that frees me from the disruptions of my underachievements. I want you to experience this euphoria too. Don’t wait until you’ve retired, after spending 60 years serving in a capacity that you subconsciously resisted, to start looking for your something. Find your something now, and share that happiness with the world in whatever way you see fit.

Amiri Banks is a junior 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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