Affirmation over refutation

David Rubin

Paging through the past few weeks’ Op/Ed section, one might get the impression that Lawrentians enjoy being angry at one another.
If I was reading The Lawrentian from outside the bubble – Quiet, you skeptics! I’ve seen it happen! I’ve seen visitors paging through our little weekly publication, on the third floor of the campus center, with their eyebrows furrowed and their mouths slanted sideways in consternation! – I might glean from its pages a warped impression of this campus.
Indeed, I would imagine a place full of angry, shoeless conservatory students who go about their lives a) picking on people who don’t want children and b) not voting.
Clearly, that is not an accurate picture of our lives here, and most readers-from-elsewhere would realize as much sooner or later. But some of them might still wonder: “Why are they so intent on picking each other apart? What’s the point?”
Maybe it’s because life at Lawrence is always full of frustrations. From the pressures of a no-longer-quite-10-week term, to the unique social challenges that stem from coexisting on this tiny campus of ours, to the continuous flow of ominous tidings from the world-at-large, it is all too easy to direct one’s general unease at one’s peers.
Maybe it’s because figuring it out often entails creating some sort of enemy. As in, I am me because I am not you. I don’t do those things that you do, those things that bother me. I object to them. Because I am 20-something years old and I am deciding what is “Capital-R Right” and what is “Capital-W Wrong.”
It’s humbling, I think, to consider our campus dialogue in the context of the recent election season, in which the country’s conversation was rife with bitter partisanship and unprecedented, seething anger.
I know they are worlds apart, but I get the same feeling from the yelling matches on cable news networks that I do from the resentment dripping from the comment threads on the website of The Lawrentian and even some of the Letters to the Editor. It is not a good feeling.
The worst days are those where I feel myself contributing to this kind of climate. I know I have a propensity for this kind of engagement with life at Lawrence. It’s so easy to do. When everyone knows everyone else, a witty, barbed comment about that obnoxious kid in your class can turn you into a temporary hero, a court jester of incomparable wit. When everyone is hard at work and haunted by insecurities, it’s easy to get lost in a game of one-upsmanship, thereby forgetting the very reasons why that work was meaningful in the first place.
But we can do better. Actually, we already do. We do better, everyday. We just don’t write much about it.
I’m comforted when, glancing out of the campus center’s four floors of windows, I see my friends volunteering their time in the garden. Having witnessed its growth over the past few years, I’m always heartened by what they’ve accomplished, by what they continue to accomplish.
And when I hear about the new thrift sale project. When I see signs for “Ghana Reads.” When I get an email about flood relief efforts. When my roommate edits and re-edits a flier about why feminism matters. When I look around at the McCarthy Co-op’s open-to-everyone Friday dinners.
I even feel better just thinking about the conservatory, knowing that it exists. I like reminding myself people are willing to devote their lives to making the world better through something as abstract as sound. And forgive me, I don’t mean to highlight the conservatory. It’s this whole place, not just the conservatory. This entire school. When it’s abuzz with activity and life and passion, I can’t help but feel inspired.
I know other people feel the same way.
It just seems like the only thing anyone wants to write about is what’s wrong with everyone else.
So I have a proposal. I would like to challenge you – whoever “you” are, and at the risk of sounding presumptuous, my hope is that “you” translates to “everyone” – to write a miniature essay. In the spirit of the great public radio series, “This I Believe,” these essays won’t be about what you don’t approve of. They won’t be about defining yourself in opposition to something else. They will just be an explanation of something or someone you care about, something that gets you through your days here at school. An affirmation, not a refutation. A quiet acknowledgment of the good things that are so easy to ignore.
I invite you to do the thinking and the writing, and then to send the finished product in to The Lawrentian. We’ll find a place for these statements of yours, somewhere in between Op/Ed and Features. Maybe in “Variety,” that flighty friend of yours. Then, perhaps, we’ll have a new kind of weekly conversation in which we try to understand who we are instead of griping about who we aren’t.