Opinions, Column

A Positive Detachment

A common gripe of second semester freshmen at Boston College is that entrenchment in friend groups established early on prevents them from branching out to meet new ones. After all, time and circumstance primarily dictate friendships when we arrive on campus.

What perpetuates the problem that this situation itself propagates is our tendency to float through our daily lives. This, however, is not endemic because we ourselves are flawed—we succumb to this because of the circumstances of living within a collegiate social environment. Every morning, as we walk through middle campus, we inevitably pass several people we know and engage in a dialogue that fits a construct resembling this: “Hey, how’s it going?” “Good, how about you?” “Good.” After this, we move on. The phrase how’s it going, which has become nothing more than a superficial conversational placeholder for genuine interest, demands a lot more than the usual mechanical and lifeless response it receives. Imagine for a minute if this question were given a sincere response, and you would realize very quickly that you would never make it to class.

The broader extension of this admittedly contrived image is the notion that there is so much more in our minds and in our hearts than we let on, and that this is problematic. And if we cannot communicate our feelings and desires, how then can we be genuine? (Are there any reservations you maintain when interacting with close friends or with a partner?)

The call to be more genuine and more uncensored in our lives is a big statement with equally lofty demands. Being vulnerable and transparent is difficult. Dealing with a person who isn’t receptive to what you have to offer intellectually or emotionally whether it is someone whom you are attempting to befriend or a girl whom you are trying to engage, can be difficult to process psychologically.

There seems to be a very positive way to rationalize the construct of “rejection.” Whenever we face rejection, we have the tendency to critique ourselves rather than the other party. However, a psychological precept known as the “60/40 principle” posits that the response produced by a person whom you engage in an interaction is primarily impacted by things in their lives completely unrelated to you. For example, someone having a bad day will have the tendency to respond negatively to someone even if the initiator’s intentions are sound or positive.

Another way to conceive of it comes from a perspective of self-confidence. When someone is truly confident in what they project to the world, whether it be physically, intellectually, or otherwise, it becomes fairly easy to brush off rejection. Admittedly, however, self-confidence is difficult to achieve, and for some this can take a lifetime.

The other option is simply to invest less in people. The analogue to this is the classic cliche of the “naturally smart” student who gets poor grades because he simply doesn’t care to study. This justifies and rationalizes his performance without undermining his status. Is this not what everyone wants?

Although this may seem heartless, in many ways this is a perfectly legitimate strategy. The notion that there is a universal way to appeal to people, the idea that there is a formulaic way to attract people to us, is far-fetched and absurd. The reality is that no two people are alike and everyone harbors individual biases, prejudices, and preferences. This tells us then that, for the most part, finding friends, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, is nothing more than statistics, a “numbers game.” The only way to be good at interacting with people is to understand that regardless of what you project, some people will like you and some people will not, and that’s just the way it is. The burden falls on us to put ourselves out there and expose ourselves to as many people as we possibly can.

It seems this is the most rational way to make sense of the social world we live in because it is logical and realistic. The understanding that people will dislike us no matter what we do is intensely liberating. If we simply approach enough people, many are bound to like us. This tells us that there is enormous value in projecting our interests and desires without apology or reservation. It tells us to take chances on people. It tells us that people can disappoint us, but that they can also surprise us. Maybe this is the only way to really understand people.

This philosophy can make us socially successful, but can it ever make us personally fulfilled? This lifestyle demands a certain degree of detachment and desensitization to our own feelings and those of others. I do not believe treating people like “just a numbers game” is reducing them, but maybe the 60/40 Principle and the veil of self-confidence are just hopeless defense mechanisms that help us continue floating through life.

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic

February 12, 2015