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The unbearable flakiness of being

In my experience, the longer one spends at Stanford, the flakier one gets. Maybe the correlation arises because we get busier, dealing with real-life concerns like too many darn internships to apply to and a p-set we should have started four days ago. Maybe we do it because, hey, this person flaked on me once, and morality is relative, so I can flake on them. So we can just shoot the subject of flakery a quick text (So sorry but … ) and get back to the grind, supposedly.

Yet flaking seems endemic of a larger cultural problem. Like most things that inspire memes, there is sad social truth in the flaking at Stanford. The dubiousness of chronic cancellation can be veiled by the brevity of a label like “flaking.” It’s evocative of French pastry, after all. But when it comes down to it, flaking here is often about unhealthy over-commitment and individualism.

In terms of over-commitment, I won’t say too much besides this: If you are in everything, you cannot be present for everything. Also, we are not invincible.

Individualistic flaking is where things get interesting. Herein, our practice of unfailing flaking is a reminder that, although we’re all self-realizing on one sandstone-oasis of a campus, as members of some sort of community, we can fail to regard ourselves as a collective.

Students here are all on their own mini-journeys from class to class, from club to club, from coffee joint to coffee joint. No two people have the same schedule because we’re on individuated paths, trying to elicit from this university the resources we need to get to our desired destination, whether that be a job or fellowship or some intellectual nirvana, before the curtain falls, and we’re chucked into the real world.

To be fair, there’s something romantic about how we carve our way through university. Part of it is that we’re so darn free, at least at first, to decide what we’ll study, where we’ll do research and which organizations we’ll “commit” to. We decide quasi-autonomously which people will surround us as we construct something resembling a robust personality, or at the very least, a robust resumé, during these four years.

However, what happens when our potentially lifelong friend does not take precedence over that p-set due on Thursday? What happens when a dorm outing — and the insane amounts of money (think thousands of dollars) it costs our staff to organize it — goes to hell because of midterm prep? What happens when we ghost a club we joined because it no longer fulfills our personal plan — do we owe nothing to people simply because our commitment was voluntary, never mandated?

When I came to Stanford, I had braced myself for classmates who worked hard and put in the time for school — I was excited for it. I reckoned the potency of individual ambition here would some getting used to, but that I’d be better for being part of it. This has largely been the case — yet there is also a sense that people are always jetting off, conceptualizing sufficient and respectful human interaction in terms of appointments on personal iCalendars. I do not consider myself immune to this solipsistic hustle, but I should feel compelled to do better — were I to consider the small but cumulative emotional, financial and moral cost of putting oneself on a pedestal, unbound by notions of reciprocity and mutual respect in most of my interactions.

Some might argue that the hustle of ambition and self-formation are precisely what we came to this school for, so our own interests rightly hold primacy. After all, we pay this institution for a degree. We came here after working hard to access and therein utilize Stanford’s resources on our own terms.

Yet this transactional, reductionist view of college does not adequately acknowledge the fact that this campus is filled with other people. That is, campus is filled with people beyond those that set or ruin the grading curve, but more importantly with people who are friends and co-members and residents and colleagues. We are not in a closed relationship of individual and institution. And the learning we do here, the good we embody, is not solely a function of things that make us great, as individuals.  

Contact Megha Parwani at mparwani ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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