COLUMN: The Principle Of Least Interest
Published: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 22, 2013 23:09
Returning to BC for my senior year, I had a lot of expectations about these first few weeks. Red Sox games, football tailgates, Tuesdays at MA’s, senior theses beginnings, freak outs about the future ... these are all things that I eagerly anticipated and was prepared to embrace. What I did not anticipate at all was spending these first few weeks of my final year constantly battling feelings of frustration with the people around me, especially without understanding my reason for this sort of extreme exasperation. It wasn’t until my Interpersonal Relations course the other day that I realized that the source of my dissatisfaction could be neatly summarized in five simple words: the principle of least interest.
In psychology, the principle of least interest is yet another one of those theories that expresses something we all observe daily in unnecessarily complex terms. In essence, it suggests that power lies in the hands of the person who cares least in a relationship, and, as a result, many of us withhold love to avoid vulnerability. Upon hearing this definition, I was suddenly wide awake (which is saying something considering this is a 4:30-7 p.m. class on Thursday night) and filled with a sense of both relief and indignation. This principle puts into words the phenomenon that has been perturbing me for weeks—namely, the fact that we at BC have pretty much accepted this as our golden rule, despite the fact that it leaves a distinct air of loneliness in its wake.
We are a campus of perfectionists and overachievers, and, as a result, we are also a campus full of young people who excel at putting their best foot forward—a fact that very few of us ever bother to deny. We are a campus of students who excelled in some way during high school and who carried some remnant of this need for excellence into college. We are a campus of beautiful people who would never go to class having just rolled out of bed. In fact, we are a campus with a “fashion police” twitter account. We are a campus full of young adults who are often unhappy with their grades, bodies, clothes, and social circles but who would rather party these concerns away than admit to them.
Perhaps even more tragically, in terms of love, we are a campus that engages in a hook up culture whose very design works to prevent anyone from becoming invested. We go out and pretend it doesn’t hurt when the boy who kissed us goes home with another girl, instead choosing to hide the pain, meet another boy, form another shallow relationship, and watch it all happen again because heaven forbid that we actually form a real attachment or, even worse, fall in love. We would rather form a series of meaningless relationships than admit to having lost our power and been completely vulnerable. We would rather be seen as distant than weak. Distance is a choice. Weakness is a character flaw.
And yet, at the same time, we are a campus of real people with real emotions and a very real desire to love and be loved. The principle of least interest only exists because we as human beings naturally and instinctually form relationships. We find meaning in our relationships with others and lack direction without them. Despite our best efforts to remain disinterested to maintain a sense of power, a lack of attachment only brings with it a sense of loneliness and a need for another relationship. As a result, plenty of us come home Friday and Saturday night feeling completely alone after having been surrounded by people. And, try as we might, the majority of us are not comforted in this loneliness by the fact that we managed to once again maintain our power through the night.
Knowing this to be true, why is it that we’re all still so willing to operate the same way each and every day? On the one hand, there is no denying that the principle of least interest is accurate. The people who care less ultimately have power. They can make demands without fear of retribution, lay down ultimatums without concern for the outcome, and sever relationships without extreme distress.Yet, does having power imply that those people have strength? Personally, I can’t help but think the opposite. In the end, the people who care less will probably not have learned to love deeply, to navigate heartbreak, or to care for someone else’s happiness first and foremost. They will not know that ice cream fixes everything or that only through fighting can good friends become best friends. They will not experience true honesty with someone or realize that, even if these relationships fail, reaching that level of honesty will always feel fulfilling. When all is said and done, they will not know what it is like to care more and will have driven away the people who did. Where is the strength or happiness in that?
Am I extrapolating from my own experiences? Yes. Do I honestly believe everyone from BC is the way I described above? No, that would be foolish. Do I think BC is unique in operating on this principle? Of course not. We live in a generation that as a whole would rather hide behind a veil of sarcasm and satire than admit to having been hurt. I’m simply saying that I wonder why we at BC are all so willing to accept this principle as the premier way of remaining happy despite the fact that I am constantly talking with students who are anything but satisfied with their interpersonal relationships. Perhaps it is time that we, as a campus, start off the new year by taking down a few of our walls and allowing ourselves, perhaps for the first time, to openly, honestly, and, most importantly, vulnerably consider both the value of power in our relationships and what we are truly willing to sacrifice to maintain it.