September 28, 2014

BANKS | Free Concern: For a Limited Time Only, and While Supplies Last

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College is ridiculous, especially socially. Cornell’s campus is an ocean of thoughts, inhabited by thousands of worried fish. Navigating these treacherous waters means we’ve each developed various idiosyncratic behaviors, social mechanisms for handling specific situations. My personal favorite? Limiting the value I place on any one moment.

I was inspired to write this column while recently consuming Louie in a Netflix binge session. In one episode, Louie witnesses a traumatic vehicular beheading right before his “date” with a much more attractive woman (it’s a dark comedy). Unbeknownst to him, she is counting on his eventual fame and hopes to benefit from his lust. However, a distraught Louie pays no attention to her during the date. Instead, he launches into a tirade about the things Americans have the luxury of caring about and eventually exclaims: “I started this day obsessed with how this would go, this non-date with you. … And it doesn’t mean anything!”

Now, I believe the aforementioned scene is applicable to more than just a “non-date.” Louie’s monologue is a testament to the whole social sphere of collegiate concerns. Students get caught up in conveying a general façade of conformity and stress out over the same silly things. I haven’t escaped this boiling pot of peer pressure unscathed, but I’ve learned a little about lessening the burn.

For example, I found myself caring a lot last year, particularly about being a black man and pursuing a relationship. The former because I am regularly reminded of my demographic status through daily experiences, ranging from the absurd to the surreal. The latter due to a syndrome dubbed by my friends as “A.B. Complex,” in which I would attach unrealistic emotions to a woman I barely knew. Hilarity and foolishness often ensued. I’ve stockpiled some wondrous horror stories for my kids to avoid experiencing.

I am grateful for the tough lessons of freshman year. Regarding romance, I gained patience. Because I once cared too much — with disastrous results — I am much more conservative with my affections these days. Strangely, my relationships with girls have become (in my opinion) stronger because of it. Since I doubt anyone wants to read a dissection of one man’s love life, I’ll explain the relevance of this change.

Being stingy with your concern allows you to stress less and focus more, but it is not synonymous with ignorance or dismissal. For example, one should certainly be aware of and learn from the past. But it is a fixed entity (at least until Area 51 releases their time machines.) Dwelling on an incident that you can’t change does very little for your time or mind.

In one powerful scene from Louie, the title character is scolded by recently deceased comedian Joan Rivers for his sense of entitlement. “You don’t know when you’re lucky. Appreciate where you are for God’s sake,” she tells him. As a student with countless potential complaints and even more blessings, this statement reeked of irony. Yet one legend providing posthumous wisdom wasn’t enough apparently, because Robin Williams joined in a few episodes later. He and Louieare the only two people at a funeral of a man they describe as “an asshole, everyone hated him.” They then promise to attend the funeral of whoever dies first. How ominous.

We waste many hours worrying about the trivial. A college-age mind clutters quickly, leaving little room for much else. Simple actions like an “excuse me” and a smile in a crowded locale are forgotten. Smartphones become the go-to escape plan when in close proximity to strangers. An honest observation is often met with silence. It’s both frustrating and superficial. To me, superficiality is twofold: letting your interactions with others dictate your own love of yourself and letting surface-level impressions of someone dominate said interactions. These interactions and impressions are interdependent but largely meaningless. Only your thoughts give them power.

What are we afraid of? “Awkward” is conceived in the mind, and almost nonexistent for me. Many comedians use this fact well, and often deliver the most biting social commentary through their candor and fearlessness. The taboo becomes suddenly palpable and the audience finds themselves comfortable, laughing and (gasp!) actually thinking about an uncomfortable topic.

You will encounter people who are not receptive to your kindness or honesty. They are unlikely to have much impact on the course of your life. The moment passes, and you move on. The next time you see this person should not be hindered by the last. After all, who cares what they think.

I’m probably just a wannabe hipster trying to convert everyone. Still, if even one person reads these columns and tries to reconsider their approach to daily life, I’m glad. As for those who disagree with me, I completely respect your opinions and would love to discuss your thoughts. But I also won’t be stressing anyone’s critique. Because, you see, I don’t really care.

Amiri Banks is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Honest A.B. appears alternate Mondays this semester.