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Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to say our goodbyes to the lost, sacred art of shutting up.
Shutting up — one of those acts of basic human decency — passed away at 12:33 a.m. in Lamont Library at the height of the seemingly interminable midterm season. It succumbed to its final death throes when a mosh pit of students stormed the first floor to begin the ancient ritual of pretending that they were actually going to get any work done with their closest friends.
To be clear, I have no moral opposition to this ritual; in fact, I will likely even participate in it tonight, to the chagrin of future me. The sole issue with the aforementioned gaggle of students is that they were so impossibly loud. They were a discordant choir of barely muffled guffaws, echoing high-fives, and, at their worst, full-on Andrew-Garfield-in-The-Social-Network shouting.
It was clear that the students had no regard for their fellow classmates in the trenches of academic enrichment, myself included. But they are not alone in their lack of self-awareness and disregard for others. Along with the flu and making-fall-your-personality-itis, an epidemic of casual egocentrism is spreading throughout the undergraduate population, making the very idea of a Harvard community fictive.
At this point, the signs and symptoms of this malady seem ubiquitous. One can hear them when almost one in five households in Massachusetts suffer from food insecurity at the same time that disparaging HUDS and the unlimited food it provides remains a staple of Harvard small talk. One can see them in the sparsely populated stands at sports games and in the way people avert their eyes when they see another student struggling with a door or a heavy package. One can feel them when one walks into the room, and nobody bothers to acknowledge their existence.
Slowly but surely, one feels oneself slipping into a solipsistic world, leaving mindfulness, selflessness, and empathy at the door.
What makes this world so incredibly dangerous is how it serves as a breeding ground for all-consuming ignorance. In this world, there are no feelings of discomfort when one witnesses injustice against another person, for if it has nothing to do with you, it does not even seem to exist. Here, the mental gymnastics people perform to explain why their allyship ends with Instagram likes and sympathetic nods seem to follow a communal rhythm. As all of the worst parts of ourselves are dragged to the front of our being, observing the same in others constantly reassures us that this is normal — that this is who we are.
But do we have to be this way?
Do we have to leave our best selves behind, allowing the community — or family — we could have been to rot away in a grave we never even visit?
Thus, I call upon those gathered here today to participate in a resurrection. I want us all to look within and tell that dark, selfish part of ourselves, that annoying-kids-in-the-library part of us, to shut up. I want us to stop participating in the destruction of a community we gave so much — from our time to our blood, sweat, and tears — to be a part of.
All it will take is some small changes to the egocentric mannerisms we have adopted. When you see someone you recognize on the sidewalk, smile at them. If someone is walking towards a door with their hands full, run ahead and open the door for them. If you walk into a quiet space where everyone is slowly realizing that their previous lecture did not, in fact, sufficiently equip them to handle that week’s problem set, maintain a respectful silence.
It is not so hard to be better than who you were yesterday. And it’s that simple effort — of a community striving to be better to each other than it was yesterday — that makes that community a family.
So, for a moment, silence your selfishness and believe. Believe that being a Harvard community could really mean something great — something always to be proud of. Believe that you could be the catalyst for the renaissance this community has been waiting for.
Believe in better. Believe in shutting up.
Sarah Rose Odutola ’27, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Pennypacker Hall.
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