I read a Letter to the Editor on The Sun’s website last November. Written by Cornell alumna Megan Tubb ’13, the letter criticized the Cornell student body for its actions following the presidential election. In response to a “cry-in” that was held on Ho Plaza, she writes “The day after the election, you responded by literally sitting on the ground and crying. What is worse is that student funds were used to provide said students with hot chocolate and coloring supplies. This is not what adulthood looks like.”
The above quote touches on a narrative that’s popular these days. College students are coddled. We’re sheltered from the harsh reality of the real world. We’re snowflakes. (Life lesson; the key is to render pejoratives meaningless by making them your own. Obama did it with “Obamacare,” Trump did it with “fake news.” I’m a special snowflake and proud of it.) I am a firm believer in answering questions with questions, both because it is a sign of intellectual maturity and because it is an effective means of hiding that one hasn’t done the assigned reading. Instead of saying “no, we aren’t coddled and here’s why,” I feel compelled to ask what is meant by the term “coddling” and why it is at the forefront of modern consciousness.
To move this column along, another question. How should people take positions on issues and thereby shape their value system? A great deal of contemporary political discourse takes the form of invective. “How could those idiots on the left/right believe x? Only an idiot would believe x — here’s 10 reasons why.” Talking heads try their hardest to win arguments, but arguments shouldn’t be things to be won. All systems contain disadvantages. The choice of one system over another, then, must involve weighing disadvantages and deciding which set of them is more acceptable. For example, I believe that everyone should be entitled to legal counsel. Such a policy might allow some guilty people with good lawyers to go free. But if legal defense were not a right, more innocent people would go to prison. The relative statistical likelihood of one vs. the other is not important; I would rather have the former occur a thousand times than have the latter happen once.
The same logic applies to the “college snowflakes” debate. I was coddled by my mother early in life. When I showed her my YMCA basketball medal and said I wanted to play in the NBA someday, her reply was something to the effect of “that’s great honey. You can do anything you set your mind to.” Needless to say, I felt somewhat betrayed when I didn’t make my high school basketball team. Coming to grips with your own shortcomings is never easy, especially if you’ve been led to believe that you’re special.
I admit that being coddled gave me an inflated sense of self. But the point is, I experienced the real world and I got over it. The world’s still plenty competitive — capitalism still eats people up and spits them out just like it always has. And participation trophies teach other valuable lessons. They teach that trying new things and seeing them to completion leads to good things. They teach that all members of a team make valuable contributions. If it weren’t for the confidence my mother gave me, I would never have had the courage to apply to an Ivy League school. It was a little tough when I went out into the real world and not everyone treated me the way she did, but I got used to it. I’d rather go through that than have the crushing weight of my own insignificance dumped on me at eight years old. After a weighing of disadvantages, I choose coddling.
I don’t live by very many rules. To quote Harold and Maude, “it’s not wise to be too moral, you cheat yourself out of too much life”. But one rule I do have is this — no one should ever be criticized for trying to do good, even if you don’t agree with their methods or even their cause. Would you criticize someone for raising money for ALS because heart disease kills more people? No? Then don’t criticize people who hold cry-ins because there are “bigger problems” in the “real” world.
Ara Hagopian is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Whiny Liberal appears alternate Fridays this semester.