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Life Lessons Memories Personal Reflections

The Realization

When I wrote this composition in the first semester of my freshman year at college, I had such a keen recollection of its underlying theme that I kept it all these years.  At that time, I did not write well so, readers, please consider this following essay the work of a rookie.  When I started looking more closely to skilled writers that had published, my ability to express myself on paper improved markedly between my sophomore and junior year.  Nevertheless, even today many years later, my writing any kind of prose very much remains a challenging task.

When I wrote this piece in my freshman English class, the underlying hurt I had experienced upon being rejected by whom I had considered close friends, was still very much on my mind.  The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, observed: “Man is a social animal.”  The strong need to have relationships with those around us can cause us to act in ways that can alienate us from those we wish to befriend or maintain as close companions.  Because we do not choose who are classmates are in K through 12th grade, the social pressure to fit in and be accepted as part of the group, during those years, is perhaps at its greatest.   Many clients, in my practice as a clinical psychologist, have described the excruciating agony they went through, as children, in feeling left out and unwanted by their classmates.  It simply is no fun to be the outsider spurned by those we are forced to be in contact with on a daily basis.  My immense desire to be accepted by all, like some of my clients, made rejection a sorer point for me than for most of my peers.

When I wrote this on a Smith Corona typewriter, spell checks or suggested punctuation changes did not exist.  Although I have corrected either omitted or unnecessary commas and words obviously spelled wrong, I have left the content of this composition intact.

 

People would rather create false images of themselves than admit to their imperfections of character. The tendency to believe that we are better than the next fellow is inherent in a great part of mankind.  This illusion, prominent in so many human minds, prevents us from correcting the very wrongs that we breed.  Mankind is a mulish race.  We too often resent the criticism that others have to offer, thereby reducing any chance of improvement in the eyes of our fellow man.  Instead of closing our minds to the remarks of others, we should judge all that is said to us, and then go on to discard or retain what has been said.  An excellent way of doing this is direct conversation with our contemporaries.

Six years ago, during my first year in junior high school, I had a feeling of such discontent that gloom had reached a stage of dominance in my character.  The year before seemed to be an antithesis of what was going on this year.  My closest friends had been ignoring me for nearly a month.  I could not understand what had happened.  Had I changed that much, or was it my companions who had changed so radically?  How could it be possible for me, who had been so popular, to be suddenly rejected by all?  As I walked through the halls between classes, I pictured myself disowned by the human race, much like the Man Without a Country had probably imagined himself.

Throughout the month, I had tried to solve my problem without success.  I had blamed everyone but myself for the present condition I was in.  For how could it be my fault?  It was my honest contention that no one, impartial to my situation, could have possibly thought that I was the guilty party.

But after a month had elapsed, it did not matter to me who was at fault.  My mental state had reached its nadir.  I realized that it would be extremely difficult to go on living in this manner.  I decided to chance upon doing something that I ordinarily would reject without second thought.  My idea was quite simple; it involved little if any strategy.  What I had resolved on doing was to go right up to one of my ex-friends and ask him why I had been neglected this past month.  To me this took a great deal of courage, but my determination, I was to find, would suppress any feeling of fear that I might have felt.

One day, outside of school, I put my plan into action.  I saw one of my friends, who had once been very close to me, and I immediately approached him.  “Marc,” I called out, “it’s me, Buzzy.”  As he stared at me, a light perspiration was clearly visible on my face.  Then he replied, “yes, what do you want?” I told him.

What came after my inquiry, concerning my relations with the fellows, and why they had been giving me the silent treatment for the past month, was smooth and gentle, in contrast to the tongue lashing I thought I would probably receive.  I discovered that the solution to my problem was no longer to act as childish as I had had a month ago.  And suddenly all of my previous actions came back to me.  My infantile actions, as I recalled, were primarily done to get attention.  Suddenly a feeling of disgust came over me, and Marc could notice it, for he told me to no longer feel bad.  I understood though, that now was the time to show them that all of my babyish characteristics had vanished from me personality.  I would act my age, as best I knew how, from this day on.

For one hour we talked to each other.  But I would have to say that within this hour I recognized something that made growing up a lot easier for me.  Besides learning where the trouble lay between my comrades and me, I had finally begun to understand that I was not always the right one.  There were others besides myself.  This bit of philosophy I have accepted and tried to follow ever since.

Categories
Memories Psychology

50th College Reunion

I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia 50 years ago on May 22, 1967, the day I turned 22 years old. I returned with my wife to Philadelphia for my reunion this past May. Wow, 50 years gone. At an earlier time in my life, my mother used to say: “The passage of time.”   Too well do I now know what she meant.

My first year at Penn was perhaps the most unique of all insofar as I met classmates from all over the country and beyond. This was the year before any of us were divided by the social forces called fraternities and sororities. My older brother who had graduated Penn in 1963 wanted to join a fraternity but had been “black balled,” a term used to describe those who were not accepted to the fraternity they wished to join. I remembered how hurt he had been by not being accepted. Although I was asked to go to a number of pledge parties to see if I was an appropriate fit with whichever fraternity had invited me, I clearly remember not having any desire to join or pledge a fraternity. I managed to meet some friends, who like me, never felt the need to become a member of a fraternity. In those days, we were called “Independents” and, I prided myself in claiming that status. Consequently, after my freshman year, I was never going to be in contact with the same breadth of classmates I had met that first year at Penn.

In my sophomore year at Penn, I do remember missing the unique camaraderie of classmates of all different types. The sorority–fraternity system is a way of segregating all of these types out: Thus, if you wanted to join a fraternity you had to be male to start, then you were classified or divided by your religion, and finally, you were classified or divided by how “cool” or how bright you were. Being Jewish, I was most familiar with the type of personalities Jewish fraternities were seeking.

The coolest and most prestigious Jews would pledge Sigma Alpha Mu (SAMI), the less prestigious but perhaps wilder Jewish guys would pledge ZBT or Pi Lambda Phi. The brainy but less cool types would pledge Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) and the brilliant nerds would pledge Theta Rho.  I’m quite sure these distinctions existed in non-Jewish fraternities and in sororities for women.   The fraternity-sorority phenomenon effectively segregated students by their own choosing.

Jonathan Haidt, in his article in the Atlantic: The Coddling of the American Mind, points out a recent disturbing trend on college campuses. A first sign of this change actually occurred at the University of Pennsylvania when an Israeli born student could not study because of the noise that was coming from a black sorority group outside of his dorm room window. He yelled at them: “Shut up, you water buffalo.” This was taken as a racial insult, and a complaint was sent to the dean against this student on the basis of the sorority members’ rights being violated. Later, the student was exonerated through a long and arduous process, and subsequently, he filed a lawsuit against the University of Pennsylvania.

According to Haidt, the above incident marked the onset of a new way in how students communicated their feelings and beliefs. Moreover, the Department of Justice and Education in 2013 expanded the definition of “sexual harassment to include verbal content that is simply unwelcome.” In following suit, what is known as “safe spaces” on campuses became prevalent and was extended to the classroom where both professors and students had to be extremely careful in not verbally offending other students. Rather, than teaching students to be more accepting and understanding of other people’s views, Universities are currently reinforcing their desire to avoid areas of disagreement in which they might feel uncomfortable.

To conclude, the University in protecting students from other student’s beliefs that they may find distasteful, is, in fact, creating a greater distance among those same students. When the University turns down a renowned speaker such as Condoleezza Rice because their students may be offended by her political views, these same students are gaining power by playing victim. Whereas fraternities and sororities created segregated living spaces for students, the University, by creating “safe spaces” for students, is segregating students on the basis of their belief systems. College marks a time period when our youth of today, and leaders of tomorrow, are most open to exploring new ideas and attitudes. A University that puts a damper on free speech among its students is closing off students to this very important growth period in their lives.