I never wanted to go to Stanford for college. I never wanted to go anywhere in particular. Of course I wanted to go to college, but I never had my heart set on a specific college. This, however, was not the case for the girl sitting next to me in the outfield bleacher seats at the Coliseum in Oakland nearly two years ago. She had finished spring quarter finals early, so we decided to catch the Angels vs. A’s game to celebrate. I had a final the next day, but it was an IHUM final, so I accepted the inevitable “B” and drove up to Oakland.
Stanford University was her lifelong dream. It was where her parents met. It was her motivation to ace tests and join clubs in high school. It was the only future she’d ever imagined. And it was the cause of great despair and even greater joy as she endured the long, torturous months between having been waitlisted and eventually accepted. She was glowing just talking about it. But the glow eventually wore off as I began to share the completely underwhelming story of how I only applied to Stanford because my mom wanted to see if I could get in, and how, before applying to any colleges, I had decided to go wherever I got the most financial aid. Thankfully, Stanford is very generous with their money.
In one of my classes, we discussed how it is a very common tendency, especially at this school, to analyze situations rather than react emotionally because we feel more comfortable on intellectual grounds. This became evident as a conversation intentionally geared toward emotional reactions to a recent, tragic event morphed into an intellectual discussion on depression, complete with statistics and psychological theories. I’ve often been teased and labeled as an “Emo Kid” (because I listen to awesome music), but I still direct problems to my intellect rather than my emotion because emotions are scary. It is safer to think than to feel.
Objectivity keeps us distant and removed, an arm’s length from situations and possible failure. It cleanses us of responsibility by placing decisions purely into the hands of cold reason and logic. By choosing my college based on numbers, I didn’t bear the responsibility of choosing “wrong,” and by keeping the gravity of the situation away from my desires, I insulated myself from the pain of possible rejection. However, removing myself from the emotional experience consequentially meant removing myself from experiencing the full joy of being accepted.
This intellectual default also allows us to maintain the image of being composed, mature adults. (I promised myself I wouldn’t use the Duck Syndrome here because everyone uses the duck metaphor.) It restrains our expression of emotion to only what is justified and considered rational and acceptable. But emotions are hardly ever rational, and we end up disguising how we really feel — and consequently who we really are — for the sake of looking composed. Part of the appeal of “getting wasted” is the freedom to reveal these dangerously vulnerable feelings and emotions through the newly provided justification of “just being a little tipsy.” It’s as if we need the excuse of not being our normal selves in order to be our real selves.
I’m not suggesting we completely throw out rationality and intellect and become slaves to our impulses and emotions. I’m merely giving the postmodern nudge to the significance of emotion by stating that there are limitations to rationality and intellect, and that living purely in your head is not living at all. Analytical judgments allow you to calculate risks, but it doesn’t necessarily help you take those risks. Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World (an awesome emo band) writes, “You’ll sit alone forever if you wait for the right time. What are you hoping for?” There’s hardly ever that perfect moment when chasing your dreams and desires is also the most sensible and rational choice. Yet, even as the head shakes side-to-side, the heart continues to beat feverishly.
Dustin Kensrue of Thrice (not an emo band, but an awesome band nonetheless) wrote in the liner notes of a record, “Nothing worth loving is safe to love.” Great rewards are preceded by great risks, leaps of faith over chasms far too vast and unpredictable for logic and sensibility to dare tread. While both intellect and emotion have limitations, they compliment each other in their weaknesses. By denying either when considering our actions, convictions and overall worldview, we are denying ourselves.
If your head kept saying “No!” but your heart (or body) kept saying “Yes!” while reading this, let Chase know by emailing him at ninjaish “at” stanford “dot” edu.