March 21, 2017

KANKANHALLI | Rain Drop, Table Top: An Excursion in Social Psychology

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There’s a table outside my dorm room that is, on its worst day, in extremely high demand. I might say I wish to be like this table if it weren’t for its lack of mobility. It caters to a plethora of clients, from the diligent, early-morning academic to the late-night intellectual; from the maintenance guy who awaits his cue to the community-enthusiast depositing snacks for group gluttony. So, you see, it’s a versatile table in its own right, but to further our discussion, let us direct our attention to its chairs.

There’s a table outside my dorm room with four lightly-padded chairs that are, on any day, warm and inviting. Please, do not consider these chairs as subjugates of the greater table. Instead, I would like to propose here that the chairs are, in fact, culturally significant to a greater degree than the table, and, furthermore, pivotal in the shaping of modern youth.

Allow me to justify my claim. All four chairs are close to power outlets on alternate sides, so there is no doctrine of power created by layout. However, the chairs are distinct in their personalities and passions. Two of the chairs face a window overlooking West Campus. They ask, “Oh, to which dining hall might the winds of life take me tonight?” Two of the chairs offer a narrower worldview, facing internally into the hallway. They are able to observe the stillness of time; they are ignited by abstract thought and broodings about the natural universe. Whether by encouraging wanderlust or philosophical speculation, these chairs produce an astounding scientific paradox: the seamless coexistence of the traveler and the wallflower, the introvert and the extrovert. These two characters never before occupied a space so closely, never engaged in such a dynamic, interwoven dialogue, never educated each other in the way they do at the table.

It’s curious, this phenomenon, but it’s not inexplicable. After all, the four chairs are positioned on opposing sides of the table and therefore are capable of obliging contrary perspectives. Now, let us prod at the dichotomy between privacy and companionship that afflicts many of the table’s visitors. When you find yourself lured into the sphere of the table, do you want to see, or do you want to be seen? Will you sit with your back turned to your audience, or will you sit with your eyes wide, feasting on the glimpses of passers by and by? This challenge raises a key line of logic about the human population. In what is likely an equal split, half of all people are hungry for information; they have insatiable cravings to know their surroundings. The other half, arguably more mischievous, do not fear the unknown; they prefer to encapsulate themselves and care not of the movements around them. If ever in need of clarifying your own stance, simply choose a seat.

The table and its four chairs also encourage us to question the nature of synergy. Consider the scenario of two pairs of people, vying to seat themselves on the table’s four chairs. So far, there is no conflict — four people, four chairs, one-to-one ratio. But, alas, it is not so simple. These two pairs of people are plagued by an aversion to heterogeneity. They resist the merger of their two parties at this one table. With this simple play, we notice an imitation of a fundamental facet of human nature. A hesitation to inhabit the same territory, even when we are not outnumbered, even as we enjoy the company of our own counterparts, models a universal deficiency. Yet, the four chairs are resilient. Night and day, they battle on, urging the synthesis of various sects and subgroups within college society — and, in time, within the world. While at first glance this table seems too small, too forceful, and entirely unconducive to the union of separate entities, it works relentlessly to destroy socioeconomic and political barriers and replace them with intimate connectivity.

For inanimate objects, the table and chairs offer us copious insights about the human experience. In years to come, further study on related topics might gain momentum in laboratory settings, but the scientist in me is quite impressed with the framework that this table provides. Humans might even evolve someday into a hybrid species with personas that do not conform to these four chairs, but as of yet, that is an untested hypothesis.
Me? I often wonder whether I am a window-chair or hallway-chair type of person. I also often reach the same conclusion, which is that I am neither. I like to hang out in my room.