Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Most Individual

            My mom tells me that I’m unique. She tells me that I’m special. She says there’s no one else in the world like me. That’s a comforting thought, but is it true? Genetically, yes. There is undeniably no other person who shares my identical chemical composition. So why do I—and millions of other people in this country—strive to flaunt their individuality in such candid ways? Almost every choice that I make reflects an intentional motive within me, whether conscious or subconscious. All of these choices, over time, have aggregated into what I consider as my current self. This is an ephemeral self; it changes after every consecutive decision. The general social attitude today suggests that when we make the same choices as other people, we’re suppressing our individuality. American culture promotes being one of a kind, even when it’s unnecessary.
            I like to shop at Goodwill. It’s one of my favorite places to buy clothes. But while the majority of people who go there are attracted by their low prices, I’m drawn in for a different reason. I can wade through the endless racks of T-shirts and find one that, with relative certainty, I will never see on another person my whole life. I look for the most bizarre, unique shirts. It’s a way that I project my own individuality to other people. But it seems sort of stupid if the very reason that I look for these shirts is for the purpose of being unique. I should get them because I actually like them, not because I’m trying to portray myself in a particular manner.
            The urge to not be a ‘copycat’ is widely observable in our society. In fact, studies have even been done to document this effect of mental influence. Dan Ariely and Jonathan Levav conducted a study at a popular bar in their town. They gave any tables of more than two people a chance to select one of four free local micro-brewed beer samples. For half of the tables, the server asked each person to mark his or her choice on a card without telling anyone else. For the other half, the servers took the orders sequentially, and out loud. What they discovered was that on average, the people who privately ordered their beers were more satisfied with their choice because they felt no pressure selecting the beer that they truly wanted. For the people who ordered out loud, they reported being less satisfied, with the exception of the first person to order.
            So what’s my point? I can tell you one thing for sure: I will continue to shop at Goodwill. The choices I make for the sake of being an individual are likely not going change. But I challenge you to at least acknowledge the reason that you’re doing something. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be different, but don’t trick yourself into thinking it’s for the wrong reason. Most importantly, don’t feel embarrassed to make the same choice as someone else.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Late Night Philosophy

            Since I arrived, I’ve been struggling to find out how college is different from home.  Much of it seems the same—daily practices, activities, and schoolwork are relatively easy transitions.  I’ve found that the real difference lies in the people who you’re with.  No longer are you living at home with your family, you’re in a dorm with your peers.  You live together, eat together, study together, and sleep together.
            Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I was apart from my family for Rosh Hashanah.  I was raised Jewish; in fact, I attended Jewish day school for 9 years.  I’m well educated in the Hebrew language as well as the verses of the Bible.  I’ve studied the Talmud and learned about the countless traditions of the Jewish people.
            After I graduated from Krieger Schechter, I went on to a high school with a much different demographic.  While mostly Jewish, the school was littered with liberal thinkers.  The concentration of agnostics and atheists was overwhelming.  Here I was exposed to opinions and beliefs far different from anything I had previously encountered.  I was forced to question everything I knew, or rather, thought I knew.
            Over the next few years I developed a very strong Jewish identity.  I am by no means religious, and my observance has undoubtedly decreased in that time.  Yet, I still feel an incredible connection to the Jewish nation.
            This brings me to Sunday night.  The campus Chabad house was hosting a Rosh Hashanah dinner for students and I decided that I would like to go.  I asked my roommate if he wanted to join me, but he declined.  The Jets game was on, and besides, he didn’t believe in religion.  So I went, and he didn’t.  That was the end of that…or so I thought.
            When I got back he asked how it was.  I said it was fine.  He proceeded to ask if I believed in god. I said no.  So why did I go?  I tried to explain to him that while I don’t believe in the Jewish religion per se, I find great comfort in the community aspect of Judaism.  He thought that was bullshit, and I agreed to disagree.  We called it a night and went to sleep.  And so begun Late Night Philosophy.
            The next morning, he hadn’t finished.  He couldn’t believe I bought into this religion nonsense.  As we walked to class, I tried to explain myself once again, citing my religious background and elaborating once again on my personal belief.  I thought I was actually getting somewhere when our conversation was cut off by the fork in the road between our destinations.  I had a feeling it wasn’t over though.
            The rest of the day we avoided the topic, but around 1:30 we climbed into bed, and we started over once again.  After we finished our debate on religion, my roommate conceded that my points were interesting, even though he still fundamentally disagreed.  From there, we moved on to discuss topics even more abstract.  From the meaning of life, to death, and even love, we were really on a roll.  Finally, at 3 A.M. we called a quits.  He gave me a preview of his theory on space and time, but we agreed to save it for another night.
            In the end, college hasn’t been that different from home.  I eat, sleep, go to class, and do homework.  I hang out with my friends and play basketball in the gym.  Even my Chipotle servings per week haven’t been noticeably affected.  But there’s something about getting into bed every night and knowing that a conversation’s awaiting that makes every day a little more exciting.  So I urge you to give it a try.  Ask your roommate the tough questions.  You’re not going to agree on everything—that’s the beauty of it.  Step outside the classroom and away from your books; there might be even greater learning opportunities waiting for you just across the room.

Friday, September 7, 2012

It's All About the Networking

            “It’s all about the networking,” was always one of my father’s favorite lines.  But this statement means very little without some context.  What he meant is that the more people you know, the easier your life will be.
            In fiction, the king of networking is Don Corleone.  The Godfather will befriend anyone, doing favors—no questions asked.  All he asks in return is friendship, and that should he ever call on his friend for a favor, they should oblige him.  Thus he built an incredible network.  In return for small favors, he gained access to a vast wealth of resources.
            Vito Corleone came to New York, from Italy, with nothing.  Once there, he reached out and made friends that would prove pivotal in his success.  Thereafter he raised a family and accrued a massive amount of wealth.
            Just like the Godfather came to America alone, freshmen in college have a very similar experience.  Uprooted from our homes, families, and friends, we are faced with the challenge of starting over.  While some may know a few fellow students before setting foot on campus, there are still, undoubtedly, thousands of strangers to meet.
            While I don’t have any intentions of being a Mafioso, like Don Corleone, I’d still like to build my network.  Making a whole new set of friends is no simple task.  There are so many faces on campus, and it’s hard to know where to start.  The dorm, and classes are an obvious starting place, but that might not be enough.
            Many students join clubs, organizations, a capella groups, or sports teams.  The more involvement you have, the more people you’ll meet.  As for me, I’m not quite sure where I stand.  I was lucky enough to know a few people coming in, and I’ve met some amazing people in my hall.  I’ve played some basketball and gone to my first few classes, where I’ve met several others as well.
            Still, it’s my hope that the friendships I’ve made so far are just the beginning.  With a class of 1300 peers as well as 3 grades of older students, the next four years seem promising.  In some ways, college offers networking opportunities that you will never find anywhere else.  So take advantage; get out of your dorm—you won’t regret it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Slumber Parties

            How do you feel about overnight guests?  The question seemed trivial, almost laughable, while filling out the housing survey.  I’m pretty sure I chuckled and answered it with the most lenient option, “The more the merrier.”  On the other hand, when the situation actually arises, it becomes more complicated.
            For many of us, the notion of living with a roommate is still quite new.  Expected, is mutual respect, while both parties learn how to live with one another.  Simple things like sharing food, wakeup times, etc., are all nuances that roommates must discuss and work out overtime.
            So, this brings us to the topic at hand: sleepovers.  When are they okay?  In the context of a survey, some might be quick to answer.  Always or never or as long as you ask me first, all seem like legitimate answers.  But, I don’t think it’s that simple.  The circumstances and people involved can make a huge difference in whether a sleepover is acceptable, or rather an invasion of private space.
            Of course, there are many examples of when a sleepover is perfectly normal and okay.  A friend visiting from home, perhaps even a prospective student, is someone whom I would immediately welcome into my room, no questions asked.  Sometimes, however, it can become a little more fishy.
            Let’s say the guest is of the opposite gender.  I personally don’t have a problem with this, but there are undoubtedly many people who do.  While it’s easy to respond, “Ask me first,” on the housing survey, when your roommate comes back with a girl, the situation can be more difficult.  No one wants to be that guy who ruined their roommate’s night; so many times the answer will be, “sure,” even if they are uncomfortable with the situation.
            It can become even more confusing when the third party involved is someone that both roommates know.  When your roommate is in bed with a mutual friend, the level of awkwardness automatically raises a few levels.  A one-night stand, especially with a stranger, is less awkward because just as there’s no pressure for the two involved to see each other again, the roommate almost certainly won’t ever have to deal with the third party.
            Finally, throw alcohol into the picture, and you’ve got a whole different ballgame.  At this point in their lives, many are experimenting with drinking for the first time.  Alcohol truly can affect how you act and what decisions you make, and unfortunately, many people make decisions that they later regret.  It’s easy to apologize in the morning, saying, “Sorry, I was wasted,” but sometimes the damage has already been done.
            In the end, these are my words of advice.  Most times, I would simply coax you to use your judgment when making decisions that might have tangible consequences.  Here, I would argue, that it is your duty to put in extra thought and care with every choice you make.  Surrounded by new people, in new situations, with new risks, it is imperative that you think twice before making actions that you may regret.