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Bursting the Bubble of Innocence

Guest Column
Jonathan T. Wang

Readers, I have a confession to make. This is not the column I had in mind when I claimed space in today’s Tech. Originally, I had written seven hundred words condemning the second housing lottery and moaning about the incompetence of the Office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs. But as I sat down Tuesday to revise that column, I couldn’t continue in light of the gross self-centeredness staring at me from the page.

It is easy to become lost in the sea of misfortunes and inconveniences of everyday life. There are infinitely many pedestrian troubles that seem all-encompassing when they occur. They may merely annoy us -- having a class scheduled at 9 AM, or a roommate’s habits, or rude drivers oblivious to pedestrians in a crosswalk. They may be disappointments or imperfections, such as the many complaints I’ve heard about the quality and price of Aramark food. They may be the stresses of MIT, the dreaded first 8.01 exam, or the next problem set. In my case, I felt sufficiently injured by the second housing lottery to condemn it in print. It is easy to lose sight of the priceless intangibles we possess and become lost in the tangible wants of life. It is a shame that it takes some large tragedy to jostle us into thinking about the grand scheme of things.

I have lived a very sheltered life. In just two weeks at MIT, I have learned more about the “real world” than I have in the past seventeen years. I came here thinking that I had seen it all after living on my own for three years in boarding school, but I was sadly mistaken. The people who I have met in this short time have shed some light on what the “real world” is like.

Last week, I realized that I have been fortunate enough to always receive the unconditional support and love of my parents, something that I had always taken for granted. That day -- and this wasn’t a coincidence -- I met someone at MIT whose parents were unloving, critical, and domineering. I watched, helplessly, as my friend cried, searching fruitlessly for how she could possibly have deserved such treatment from the people that should love her most. Regardless of her achievements and what she has done, she never seems to be able to receive the kind of love from her parents that many of us take for granted.

Additionally, before these past two weeks, date rape was an academic subject to me. Clearly, it was not my problem, as I didn’t know anyone who was affected. Warnings about Rohypnol (roofies) seemed to be extreme and unnecessary paranoia. Meeting someone with a story to tell -- and I don’t mean Katie Koestner’s speech during Orientation -- humanized and brought full force to the heinous crime.

Similarly, I used to shrug off high-pitched sirens of racism and prejudice in the United States. Obviously, such things simply didn’t happen in our country. As a member of the Chinese minority, I had never experienced anything to be construed as racism in my travels around the U.S, or even around the globe. The rallying cry of diversity seemed to be a hopelessly redundant, politically correct point wholly irrelevant to my life. Then, I met someone here who was terrorized in high school with a cataclysm of anti-Semitism.

The point of this is to draw attention to the things that we take for granted in life. For me, it took a massive tragedy to draw attention to the pettiness of some of my concerns. I am lucky enough to have parents who truly care about me and to have been protected from some of the darker facts of life up until the beginning of my independent life in college. The lives lost Tuesday can never be replaced, particularly not by American retaliation, but perhaps we can all step back from the daily grind and see the invaluable things in life that we fail to notice.