The Bright Side of Life
It’s seductively, even delightfully, easy to be a complainer. It seems that there’s hardly ever a shortage of faults and frustrations around us. The work is hard, the nights are sleepless, the grading is unfair, the food is bad, the weather is cold, the rooms are crowded, the self-referential irony is unappreciated. Complaining demonstrates our wit, expresses our knowledge of what is better, and even forges a camaraderie amongst woe-begotten students.
Most of the issues which provide us with grievances, however, can also provide us with ample reason to be happy, and complaints should be regularly balanced with more optimistic thoughts. As we enter this Thanksgiving season, I think all of us, especially cynical columnists, could stand to benefit from rejoicing and appreciating the wonderful world we live in, including the very objects of our complaints.
The difficulty of the MIT workload, and its effects on our sleep, sanity, and social life, are favorite topics of conversation. Many of us have wallowed in thinking how tedious a class is, how frustrating the grading policies are, and how absurd the amount of crud is that we have to do by tomorrow. Most of these conditions are inevitable and necessary, however, and we know that neither venting nor sympathy will improve the condition, so there must be some other satisfaction derived in the process of complaining. When we ruminate on how little sleep we got, or relate the sheer difficulty of our trials to each other or to outsiders, it seems that it’s with a tinge of pride -- pride in our perseverance and our accomplishment.
This pride can ultimately bring about true happiness and contentment, and for this we have difficulty to thank. On a less philosophical but nonetheless significant note, continual sleep deprivation makes us immensely thankful for an alarm-clock-free weekend morning; it’s wonderful that what we can crave and yearn for so much can actually be attained so easily and cheaply.
Other trivial sources of irritation can also be legitimately viewed in a positive light. Dining options, granted, are expensive and rather unexciting. But our pilgrim forefathers and foremothers spent the better part of their day hunting wild game and harvesting corn. The homeless living in T stations will spend an equal amount of time foraging for discarded chicken sandwiches tonight. When we consider their conditions, being able to reliably and easily buy our choice of reasonably palatable meals or food-substitute is pretty cushy. Similarly, the dorms may be crowded and grungy in places, but with running water, warm air, individual beds, and full bathroom amenities, both Mayflower passengers and modern T station residents would surely be overjoyed to have our accommodations. If such people could find rapture in our environment, then surely we students could all be at least reasonably content and happy.
An enumeration of all of the campus debates that incite so many passionate minds would, alas, be quite beyond the current scope and my inclinations. The outcomes of the important campus issues -- Pass/No Record, dorm and fraternity citations, and anonymous medical transport -- have significant consequences. Granted, they’re weighty matters, but there’s a healthy discourse, and both sides at least agree on the need to resolve the issue through deliberation and agreement. P/NR won’t affect any of us, citations at least follow some semblance of judicious, lawful, proceedings, and students are free to choose to make the issue of medical transport personally moot by not taking the risk in the first place.
No personal attacks are made, no violent protests disrupt life, and no arms are taken up, as may be the wont of more tumultuous campuses elsewhere in the world. That the most divisive issues on campus still allow for such harmony and amiability is certainly something to be acknowledged and appreciated, and disagreements need not yield unhappiness or anger.
Some may say that it’s easy enough to compare our station in life to that of the less fortunate and that being able to imagine a worse condition doesn’t make the present one any better. That’s very true. Thinking about the “poor starving children in Africa” won’t make the Brussels sprouts on the plate any more appetizing, though it may stir a desire in us to send the leftovers to the starving children. But if there’s nothing that can be done about an inevitable or frustrating condition, and if things could be worse, we owe it to ourselves and the less fortunate to be happy, and to always look on the bright side of life.