Not even my centennial replay of “thank u, next” had the power to distract me from what was transpiring outside my headphones. The conversation — or interrogation, judging by its tone — went something like this:
“You got the job! So, Wren must have pulled for you.”
“Uh, yeah, I mean, I saw her briefly.”
“Right. That’s crazy. How did you even—that’s crazy. Was it easy then? What did they ask you?”
“I got along with the interviewers. I guess; it wasn’t too bad.”
“Oh, okay. Are they still accepting applications? Oh, congrats, by the way.”
“Yeah, corporate isn’t for me though. It just — yeah.”
I doubt that contextualizing this dialogue will offer any redemption, but let’s give it a try. Here, we observe Party A, new and justifiably excited recipient of a dream job offer, approached mid-assignment in Statler Lounge by Party B, likely chasing a similar offer but as of then unrewarded. Cue the rapid fire of questions from B to A, leaving A visibly drained, dejected and perhaps worst of all, with a lower sense of satisfaction than she might have begun with prior to the conversation.
Did we forget how to appreciate others? Did we never learn? Somewhere along the way, our lives became isolated journeys to narrowly defined end goals, with no regard for who nudged us there. Maybe there’s little to do besides resign ourselves to the competitive culture here at Cornell, but it’s frightening that the behaviors to which we habituate here are the same ones that persist well beyond college.
Jarringly, the two parties in conversation seemed to me like dear friends, despite the palpable insensitivity characterizing the encounter. Hardly is anyone prepared to respond to insinuations about the coincidental nature of their successes — nor should they be. Suggesting that one’s contributions were minimal, that the task was uncomplicated, or that connections and luck — not personal effort — were responsible for an accomplishment is critical in the least productive, most harmful way.
I wish I could believe that it is obliviousness — maybe some of us are simply not aware that inserting ourselves into a friend’s story can quickly transition from relatable to reductive. I wish I could believe that dissecting a triumph is a tactic to motivate or a novel strategy for empowerment. But, sadly, the culprit is just old-fashioned self-interest.
So poisonous is this trend of egocentricity that those who practice it are emboldened, and those who witness it are overcompensating. Each time, friends whose congratulatory words are merely afterthoughts distance themselves further from authenticity. Meanwhile, sustained exposure to this sort of undervaluing or indifference in close relationships carries lasting impacts for the subject. Many internalize the distastefulness of vanity. Some even hesitate to organize gatherings for their own birthdays — the most natural of celebrations — afraid that jovial events arranged to share high spirits with others is teetering too far into conceit.
I’ve experienced both: having to defend myself, almost apologetically, for an achievement, and conversely, gushing freely about good fortune that I truly am grateful for. It goes without saying, but one certainly leaves you feeling better than the other. I’ve had to make secrets of things that I would have loved to share, for fear of its effects on whomever I would have told. If I did decide to share, I’ve had to watch the clock and be sure to extract some positive news from my listener for the sake of balance.
Some enjoy their victories in solitude and some prefer to be vocal. Of course, a degree of consideration factored in for our audiences and their circumstances is always necessary, but whether of the former or latter variety, the option to acknowledge ourselves should always be accessible — not taboo, not disputed. Hopefully, the conversation I overheard was a minority sample. The things that make you happy are not meant to be quarantined or diluted. Especially in our ever-challenging world, with adversity at any junction, they’re meant to be celebrated.
Priya Kankanhalli is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Matters of Fact runs every other Tuesday this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.