I first noticed the pervasive cultural phenomenon that is the overuse of the word “bro” at a reunion of high school friends when I entered my friend’s living room to a chorus of “‘sup bro,” “yo bro-sef,” and even a “dude bro-minator.” The culprit for this new and odd behavior becomes clearer when I explain that all of these friends recently became college students. On college campuses “brother” and “sister” are words that are becoming synonymous with “friend,” and this has weakened the power that those words could have.
Formerly constrained to fraternity houses and re-runs of “That 70s Show,” our generation, especially college students, has taken “bro” into the mainstream. I attribute it to shifting identities, as our generation, placing less existential emphasis on nation, family, and religion, seeks to fulfill its biological need for community elsewhere. Perhaps we are so desperate for real familial connections, and yet lacking in the time to form them, that we attach the word “brother” or “sister” to people we’ve just met, in a vain grasp for the unconditional security of family.
However, this may be a mistake. The justification for my protection of the word “brother” lies in its strong personal importance. My family hosted three exchange students while I was in high school, and for each of them, brother was a word that was earned, and it symbolized the love we shared after living together for a year.
Nor has that love withered in the time apart. For instance, Jasdeep Chawla from New Delhi sought advice from me, as a brother, when he wanted to end his sister’s arranged marriage. Yigit Dizdarer from Izmir, Turkey was my guide through my adolescent crises and still my favorite source for advice. And when Kazushi Hoshino from Kyoto visited me two weeks ago and I introduced him to my Harvard “bros” as my brother, he wasn’t fazed and shared my laughter at their confused expressions.
So when I hear “brother” thrown around as lightly as “buddy” or “dude” it feels like a slight on the profound friendships I formed with my brothers: Jasdeep Chawla, Yigit Dizdarer, and Kazushi Hoshino.
Although “brother” is used too frequently on college campuses in my opinion, I recognize that I’m lucky in the number of individuals I can call brothers. Therefore, perhaps the word holds more meaning for me than others because of my unique opportunities for brotherly relationships. Furthermore, I’m not trying to belittle the life-long relationships formed in college (including fraternities and sororities), in fact I would argue that often the words “brother” and “sister” are used correctly, but overall, they are used too loosely.
Ultimately, like any other word, “brother” has a subjective meaning and is therefore variable between individuals. However, we should remember the power that the word can have and use it more sparingly and appropriately. Brotherhood or sisterhood isn’t about shared genetics, simply spending a certain amount of time together, sharing similar interests, or mutual inspiration. It’s only about all those things until it’s about none of those things. Know what I mean broth–err friend?
Eric T. Justin ’13, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Mower Hall.