Busy, Boring People

Quit something and go have a conversation

Please raise your hand if you have scheduled “free time” with your closest friends. Keep your hand up if you don’t regularly have conversations that last more than an hour. Keep it up if you sometimes don’t talk to your roommate(s) for more than five minutes a day. Okay, you can put your hand down—people are staring.

My parents were in town this weekend, here to be impressed and tricked into believing that their hard-earned money wasn’t being squandered. I think it went well—they didn’t discover anything around my room that would reveal dubious aspects of my life, they bought me new clothes, and they saw Professors Sandel and Kirshner do their best stand-up comedy/teaching. However, the fact that they left happy had nothing to do with my ability to hide things or Bob Kirshner’s hilarious Tim Robbins impression. And it definitely had nothing to do with me.

The first day they were here, they came up to my room to do the traditional Inspection of the Living Quarters. “It (ahem) always looks like this” I assured them when they inquired about the relative cleanliness. Before I had to spend too much time trying to defend this outrageous claim, my roommate Dave came home. He had that dazed computer-science-owns-my-soul look to him, but he was kind enough to sit down and chat with us for a while.

I understood less than half of the hour-long conversation that followed—something about game theory and auctions—but I did my best to fake it. When Dave left for dinner, there were really only two things that I was completely sure of: Dave is way smarter than I am, and my parents probably agree.

It was conversations that happened with my friends throughout the weekend—both over my head and fascinating—that made my parents satisfied with their investment. And, as much as I’d like to think so, I don’t think my friends are very unique. Look around, just about everyone from the physics nerd to the football player is brilliant and interesting. Seriously, it’s freaky.

Now, I don’t bring this up to make us all feel special; an ego boost is the last thing most of us need. I bring it up to remind you that, in all likelihood, you will never again be surrounded by 6,500 people who can teach and challenge you more than the people who live within a square mile of you right now.

I know it’s fashionable to complain about Harvard not being fun, about Harvard not being “college,” about stress and competition and grades. The just-as-popular corollary is to complain that everyone is pre-professional, worried more about their future prospects and power than being a student at a liberal arts college: intellectually curious, passionate and open to new ideas and perspectives.

What cracks me up is when the very people who complain about Harvard being stressful, pre-professional, and un-college are people who spend all day, five or six days a week in meetings or in a library. No offense, but look in the darn mirror.

If Harvard students spent a little more time talking to each other and a little less time trying to beat each other, we would be more successful, happier, and more interesting people. Our community would be stronger and our politics would be more interesting. We would be more creative, more lively and less permanently tired.

Yes, Andrew, thank you for the lecture, you say, but I can’t fight against an entire culture that demands that my résumé is a mile long and my leadership experience is extensive and important-sounding. I’ve got to get a job in this crazy world.

Bull, I say. I know a little bit about game theory—thanks Dave—and this is the classic prisoner’s dilemma argument: you can’t quit if other people won’t. But guess what? You’re not prisoners, you can talk to each other. Cultures change when people decide to change them.

Listen, if you’re not going to do it for me, and I’m assuming that’s a safe bet, do it for whoever is paying for your education. Your parents or your loans deserve it. And whatever year you are, you’re running out of time. 6,500 is a ton of people.

Quit all but one of your extracurriculars and go talk to your roommate. And put your hand down already.

Andrew H. Golis ’06, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.