I hereby reaffirm: the world is full of people

Adam Cox

Editor’s note: “I hereby reaffirm,” a new corner of the The Lawrentian, aims to foster a campus-wide dialogue about personal belief. What do you believe? Think about it, write it down, and send it to lawrentian@lawrence.edu

I’ve always loved traveling, and when I was young the experience of navigating an airport always had an exciting “us vs. them” feel — exciting because in order to board the plane one had to overcome all kinds of incomprehensible obstacles.

Arriving at the airport was an entrance to the battlefield of the individual’s war against nonsensical rules and those who enforce them. This is a familiar struggle; everybody has horror stories and battle scars.

Because of this, early on I came to see airports as a modern-day rite of passage. Negotiating all those rules and deadlines sans parents or chaperones seemed like a good way to tell society “I can take care of myself.”

This seemed okay for a while, until I realized that it’s still just a submission to protocol, and isn’t asserting yourself about anything more than following rules? My interest in faceless regulations began.

For these reasons, I found the idea of Airhitch, a system by which people effectively hitchhike on commercial airplanes in order to fly cheaply, to be very appealing. It offered a way to break down that barrier between the plane and I, to circumvent the feeling of “them.”

In the end, dealing with the Airhitch staff was extremely time-consuming and infuriating, but it did lead me to an AirIndia last-minute ticket office in the Frankfurt airport, facing an amiable man who said with a look at his computer and a delectable German accent, “You want to go to Chicago today? Let’s see… 675 euro? We can do better than that… how about 430?”

You see, to me the process of growing up is a constant and concerted effort to demystify the world and the rules we take for granted, and that German man who treated the airline industry with a shrug and sly smile did a lot for my 18-year-old self. As part of “them” he didn’t amount to much, but when he became a person, that impenetrable wall of air-travel protocol started to melt.

In the U.S. today, we try to make life easier for ourselves by complaining. We complain about professors, bosses and security guards, and allowing ourselves to use those general terms makes it a carefree endeavor.

We make it easy to blame “them,” but by doing that we are actually disempowering ourselves. By drawing a dichotomy between “us” and “them,” we remove ourselves from the realm in which we can actually solve our problems. Sadly, this gives us more to complain about.

When we’re young, we spend a lot of time learning how to follow rules — social rules, school rules. But eventually we must come to a point where the question is not how to follow them, but why they are there. This is an unanswerable question if you continue to see the world as a mystical place of unfounded obstacles.

To me, becoming an individual is not about opposing yourself with society, but about seeing where you fit in. It’s about realizing that there are far less of “them” in the world than we all tend to think. In this way, the world becomes not an intimidating place, but one that’s just full of people.