April 25, 2016

DUGGAL | Making It Work

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Sitting in class yesterday, I was distinctly aware of the rough day my professor was having. His fly was open, his hair was all over the place and he could not, for the life of him, get his notes in the same order as the PowerPoint he had prepared in about five minutes the night before (or morning of). Yet, that lecture was probably the best lecture I had sat through all semester. It was the only one in which I found myself taking notes without having to remind myself to, the only one I wanted to stay in past its scheduled end time and definitely the only one that has pushed me to think past the lecture itself enough to write a column about it.

I was surprised at myself for enjoying something that was so disheveled. Having been at Cornell for almost two years now, I am inclined to think that a piece of work can only be one of quality if you have put hours into it, and if you haven’t, well, everyone can tell and call you out on it later. I was just as surprised at my professor. Having known the guy for almost an entire semester, I was genuinely impressed at his ability to take a detour from his usually serious and wound up state to one that had come to terms with the idea that his day was not going to go the way he wanted and that he was going to simply have to roll with the punches.

It’s a difficult thing to understand what it truly means to “roll with the punches,” and it’s a lesson that I am convinced we can learn only by failing enough times. I was on Facebook the other day, and there was a post titled “An Open Letter to Every Coddled College Student” that caught my eye. Reading through the post itself was a frustrating experience — in my (very biased) opinion, the author, a self-proclaimed “President/CEO”(don’t ask me of what, it didn’t say), that apparently represented the opinions of all those who you might consider professionally successful, was narrow-minded, rude and condescending. The post’s overall point was something along the lines of “life is tougher in the real world, get over it,” but quite frankly, it was written so terribly it might as well have been one of Donald Trump’s tweets.

The reason I bring that post up along with my professor’s particularly rough day is not just to tie together two things I came across in one day that stuck in my mind for a while longer than most things do. Instead, it was to bring up what it means to “deal with it.” There are several different ways in which people come to terms with difficult times, but there are two common ways in which I have seen people handle tough situations that are distinct to the environment I have found myself in during recent times.

The first is the way in which the aforementioned Facebook post suggests people should deal with situations — by, quite frankly, being a jerk to everyone around you because you are in a position you don’t like. What bothers me most about this approach is not the oversimplification with which one might paint a situation, but rather the utter lack of empathy. The way in which my professor chose to deal with his situation, and the way in which I believe “rolling with the punches” works is one that involves a more humane approach — make it work, but do what you can to make it work for those around you as well.

Hebani Duggal is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at hduggal@cornellsun.com. Teach Me How to Duggal appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

One thought on “DUGGAL | Making It Work

  1. I think you are right that the “open letter” was not well-written. But its message is still worth considering. In fact, just as you describe that lecture as being disheveled but still worthwhile, terrific even.

    Some college students, not all, but the ones who make the news, seem (to outsiders) to have the luxury to complain about micro-aggressions, and insist on safe spaces to hide from conservative speakers, and to demand trigger warnings in case their PTSD might surface, and to protest and shut down speakers they don’t agree with, and to make demands on their university for divestment over fossil fuels and Israel, and to ask for finals to be cancelled because someone from the same ethnicity was shot by a policeman somewhere in the country.

    All of that is what people in the non-college world are reading about. For those students who bemoan what has happened to higher education, and who work really hard to make something of themselves, these sort of open letters can be safely ignored. But to those activists and others (snowflakes?) who think the world is going to be like the university, such warnings are valuable.

    I think of the Yale student who yelled and cursed at her housemaster, a distinguished professor, who was just trying to be reasonable with her about halloween costumes. In a sane world she would have been expelled. One wonders where she got the idea she could behave that way?

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