Other people at Stanford provide amazing insight to discover more about oneself. For instance, I’ve been fortunate enough to follow a series of pieces in The Daily this year that has informed me about my own character (no, that’s not a reference to this God-given gift of a column) by virtue of being a male.
I was fascinated to discover from another writer that, because I am a man, I engage both consciously and subconsciously in the subjugation of women. It was furthermore shocking to find out that I am a homophobe due to my association with the Greek scene, a chauvinist by virtue of having a Y-chromosome and a sex-craved, hormone-driven caveman because I have a penis.
If it wasn’t for a specific elucidating Daily column I followed each week, the opportunity for this catharsis would never have come about. I’m surprised that I wasn’t aware of how much of a stereotypical type-A sexist meathead I am–I must have been too busy promoting negative gender stereotypes and pursuing sex to notice. Given the weekly epiphanies in this column that all men are inherently oppressive and abusive, I’m surprised we don’t all play lacrosse for the University of Virginia.
Or maybe I was wrong to agree so quickly with these ideas. Maybe by conceding the points of such sexist thought thinly veiled behind the inviolate guise of feminism, I was allowing myself to be persuaded by clichéd stereotypes. Maybe it’s possible to be both a man and a proponent of gender equality (though the enlightened reader of the aforementioned series would argue otherwise).
Other people are an invaluable tool to learning more about people. One thing I’ve learned from them is that people can’t be broken down and compartmentalized into stereotypes.
The point of all the abstract moral philosophy and heavy-handed social psychology this column has churned out for the past four months can be summarized simply: people are not easily reducible to clichés. They are much more multifaceted than we are willing to give them credit for being.
The reason we love movies is because screenwriters develop plot lines that facilitate simple thinking. There are heroes and villains, and most situations can be easily approached through a lens of “right” and “wrong” that clearly sets apart virtue from vice. Life would be much easier if people were so uncomplicated.
Unfortunately, they’re not.
Fortunately, Stanford provides people with the opportunity to experience the fascinating diversity and contradictions that can present themselves in people. There are fraternity feminists, pro-war vegans and humble varsity athletes. All such people would seem to undermine the popular stereotypes to which we find ourselves defaulting when we want so badly to pass judgment on an entire group.
People will always be quick to label you–yes, you. It’s much easier to use one of your relevant traits as a heuristic to judge who you are as a person than it is to get to know you, especially if you undermine other people’s generalized assumptions. Clichés are the hallmark of a lazy mind. (That sentence is ironic.) Irritatingly enough, the world is full of people more eager to pigeonhole you than to get to know you. These people may never realize that not only do exceptions to the rule exist, but also that oftentimes, there is no rule.
The point (yes, there is one) is: don’t fall into lazy clichés or be too quick to judge circumstances. Four years at Stanford give lucky undergraduates the priceless opportunity to learn this lesson.
And that moral of the story lends itself to yet another, more holistic lesson: don’t take yourself or life too seriously. Life is too damn short and you’ll run the risk of becoming a boring person (all spit and spite, and no delight). Breaking free of labels and stereotypes is a healthy exercise in awareness with the simple lesson that people are indefinable.
Achievements, bank accounts, GPAs, social circles, trendy fashions, holier-than-thou attitudes, physical prowess, pitying condescension, societal status…None of it is solely representative of a person, and nobody can be compartmentalized to such simple, readily available traits. If you get caught up in such small details, you will run the risk of taking life too seriously.
All this arguably supercilious advice is ironic coming from a 21-year-old frat boy. But maybe those traits don’t define me or my ability to have meaningful insights. And similarly, your surface qualities will never have the power to define you, regardless of how people may try to compartmentalize you. Beware of people so ready to focus on the small stuff that they miss the big picture–life is too short to take them seriously.
As Aristotle once remarked, “Hustle mean hard work, if you scared go to church, man this philosophy is easy, every thought I get I murk.”
Oh hot damn, this was my jam. Dedicated to David Noss. Share your own jams with Nik at firstname.lastname@example.org.