Quad Erat Demonstrandum
March 8, 2012: a date which will live in infamy. Housing Day for the Class of 2015. More specifically, the day on which a giant red fish came bounding up the stairs of Holworthy East and announced to my blocking group that we’d been assigned to Cabot House.
Class of 2016, if you’re happy with today’s Housing Lottery’s results, congratulations. But if you’re not, and you just can’t seem to convince yourself that Flyby inverted the House rankings, rest assured that your cloud of residential misery has a silver lining. Forgive me, Cabot—it wasn’t you, it was me—but getting a House I desperately did not want turned out to be strangely liberating.
Some of the reasons for my disappointment with Cabot were silly. No debate team president had ever lived in the Quad, or so my Quincy-supremacist debate elders told me. The dining hall (it took my blockmates several weeks of convincing for me to set foot inside it) looked like a nursing home, furnished with aquatic decorations to lift the spirits of the hopeless. Whereas I was a Gryffindor, Cabot seemed like the Best Western across the street from Hufflepuff. And I was not, nor did I ever want to be called, a “sexy fish.”
But some of my reasons felt more legitimate. I spent 7th-12th grades commuting between my home in Queens and my school in Manhattan. It didn’t take me long to learn that I was from the lame (if not quite the wrong) side of the tracks. Maybe 12-year-old me needed a hobby, but I became preoccupied with my badge of bridge-and-tunnel inferiority. Getting Quadded felt like getting outer-boroughed—exiled—all over again.
Other people didn’t make it easier. Friends who got Adams and Eliot offered their sympathies, which was both saddening and maddening. Some bully assigned to Currier gave me 10 reasons why it was better than Cabot, like the second smallest kid on the playground picking on the smallest. My proctor, advisor, and PAF assured me that it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought, all the while keeping me keenly aware of the Interhouse Transfer option.
To top it off, my blockmates had the nerve to be excited. I saw their happiness as an exercise in self-delusion or cognitive dissonance reduction—the kind of thinking that bred complacency and willingness to settle.
“You get what you get and you don’t get upset,” Mrs. Feldman used to stress to my Kindergarten class, suspiciously soon after she ran out of cherry lollipops and starting handing out orange or some similarly horrid flavor. Professor Daniel T. Gilbert makes a similar (if more eloquent) point in his TED Talk: although we think that happiness is what results when our circumstances align with our desires, we can actually synthesize it. He’d say that my mistake in resenting Cabot was in believing “that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind.”
How might I have synthesized that happiness? I could have told myself that I was overreacting. That the Quad really wasn’t that far, the river had roaches, and Cabot—full of great people (it is)—just needed a better press agent. But it was unsatisfying to plug these standard rationalizations, the ones meant to make you feel better about the Quad without forcing you to suppress your primal desire for House Spirit.
Put housing political correctness aside for the moment. There are some of you out there for whom the idea of loving something just because it is yours is nonsensical—who raised your hand in Kindergarten and said: “Sorry, Mrs. Feldman, but it’s not Pareto optimal for me to keep this orange lollipop. I’m going to trade with Billy, because that will put us both on higher indifference curves.” (Or something to that effect.)
I offer you this. Of course, in the scheme of your life, your House affiliation does not matter. Zooming out—people don’t think it’s cute when you tell them you’re upset because you got put in the faraway dorm… at Harvard. That being said, it’s often unsatisfying to write off our Harvard-related gripes as failures to maintain perspective. These are our lives, and our problems are our problems.
But you can eat in other Houses. You can sleep in Lamont. You can spend so much time in a House that isn’t yours that you get nominated for Currierite of the Week.
Visit friends all over campus. If someone asks you what brings a Cabotian like you all the way to Dunster, you tell them your feet.
Define yourself as a lion, a penguin, or a “sexy fish,” if you wish. But you can always define yourself as a Harvardian. You can make a small investment in convincing yourself that the box you live in is the best box. Or you can choose not to live your life in a box at all.
Lisa J. Mogilanski ’15, a Crimson editorial comper, is an Economics concentrator in Cabot House.