COLUMN: Are You Happy?
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 00:03
Boston College students are always happy. We all have a gazillion friends, spend our days with no stresses beyond our outfits, our raucous weekend plans and our oh-so-burdensome academic workload. We do things like First Year Service Program, Perspectives, and reflections galore, leaving us insanely well-adjusted and ready to tackle all challenges unfazed. We go to the Plex approximately nine times per week, because our health is a priority for us and we absolutely love exercising. We are, essentially, superhumans in a four-year incubation period before wildly successful careers as executives, senators, and crusaders for social justice. Clergy? Probably not, because we’re spiritual, but not religious, you know? We rock at everything except football and basketball.
Except not really. Not the football and basketball part, we really do suck at those (unless Hanlan drops another 41). The rest, though, is pretty much false. We actually spend a good bit of time unhappy, with our grades, our bodies, our clothes, our friends (of which we generally have fewer than we’d like), our futures, basically everything. We think reflections are pretty lame and are too self-conscious to truly open up, so we sort of just sit awkwardly and muse about the evil of poverty. Our weekends are actually quite stressful, tending to merge too much alcohol with too many people with not enough rest or regard for our health, with the result often being that we spend our Sundays in a regretful, headache-y haze. We spend time in the Plex because other people are prettier/stronger/cooler than we are, and we impulsively blame ourselves. We not only doubt our ability to become executives and senators, we in fact question whether those are actually desirable career paths—perhaps we’d be happier as a high-school philosophy teacher in a safe neighborhood and with a partner whom we love (but don’t say that word). We actually don’t care much for football and basketball.
Maybe I’m just projecting too much from my own experience—I’m certainly exaggerating to an extent. Still, the worst-kept secret at BC is that we do an abysmal job of living up to our marketing materials—just check out the BC Confessions Facebook page. The intellectually stimulating, emotionally safe, and accepting environment we were sold at orientation gives way to a superficial, judgmental, homogenous culture. This is not to say that BC doesn’t have cultural variety (three percent international students, c’mon), but simply to say that there is a dominant sense of societal expectation from which it is difficult to deviate. I’ve found myself discussing this anti-intellectual, anti-individualistic culture in a variety of forums, from a small gender seminar to a theology course to private meetings with professors. Every single conversation has yielded the same result: Everybody knows that this is the case, almost nobody likes it, and nobody has any clue how to combat it. Everybody would prefer a more open, accepting society. But how do we get there?
There aren’t any easy answers—it won’t happen overnight and probably won’t happen while any of us are still at BC. But maybe we’re already on the right path. We’re discussing it in some of our classes—that’s a start, that’s better than nothing. It seems pretty widely acknowledged, albeit not publicly, that there is a problem—that’s a start. The next step will take true courage, courage that goes far beyond simply writing a column in The Heights or throwing in your two cents in class. The next step will take the courage for people to stand up and say, I’m not happy all the time. I’m not comfortable all the time. Those two statements could apply to almost anyone, and yet to publicly admit weakness in a community that places a premium on strength is incredibly, incredibly difficult. I don’t know if I could do that—I write columns in a newspaper, I don’t confront anybody, I don’t reveal anything of myself to another human being. So maybe it’s somewhat hypocritical for me to snipe at our culture on these pages, to pass judgment on BC after seven months and call for a solution that I myself am not willing or ready to participate in. But maybe somebody reads this column and talks about it with their roommate, maybe somebody reads it and feels less insecure about the insecurity we all conceal, maybe somebody reads it and thinks I’m just a stupid, bitter freshman. Whatever. That’s better than nothing.
The point is that we need to enter into a campus-wide dialogue, asking ourselves tough questions about the culture of BC and whether it comports with our expectations and desires. We need to confront the questions that reveal our most authentic selves, questions that reveal the insecurities that we may be unwilling to face. These questions are tough to ask, because horrid as it is, the dominant culture is safe—it protects us from having to confront unpleasant truths about ourselves as individuals, truths that society has conditioned us to repress and be ashamed of. It isn’t going to be fun, and it isn’t going to be easy, but only when we are able to stand up and profess that which makes us different, that which we may not like about ourselves, only then can we ever hope to be comfortable with our vulnerabilities and celebrate our differences. Only then can we truly evaluate whether the priorities we’re living accord with the values and beliefs we hold. If Boston College were as wonderful as it is in the brochures, on tours, at orientation, it’d be a truly incredible and beautiful place—it isn’t yet. If it’s ever going to be, we need to be open, we need to be vulnerable, we need to be weak. I truly believe that we’re on the road to improvement, that discussions in class, in dorms, in private are the first step—there’s a long way to go. Personally, I’m holding out hope.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.