The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 53.0°F | Mostly Cloudy


A Single-Serving Life

Roy K. Esaki

The people we meet on each flight. The people we meet for a week during orientation. The people we meet for several years during a given school, job, or living environment. Between takeoff and landing, we have our time together, but how many of them are single-serving friends? And given life’s ephemeral limitations, to what extent are temporary arrangements based on convenience -- acquaintanceships, essentially -- inevitable, not only with relationships, but with ideologies, or dispositions as well?

The distinction between an acquaintance and a friend is a unique one that is to be made by each individual, certainly, but for the sake of discussion let us consider the former to be a relationship precipitated and sustained purely by external circumstances, and the latter to be something more permanent and intrinsic. With the former, when you leave the plane, you exchange business cards to file away in the rolodex; with the latter, you don’t need to, because you know you’ll remember to look each other up when you find yourselves in the same town twenty years from now.

This is not an issue solely of permanence, for change, as one of the few bona fide constants, is incorrigible, and time can alter acquaintanceships and friendships alike. Rather, it is an issue that is of fundamental self-awareness; to figure out the nature of our actions and interactions, we need to figure out not only what we think, but why we think the way we do.

It is reasonable to presume that ideally, there ought be no real problems in a friendship. Differences of opinion, squabbles, and bickerings are inevitable, of course, but the underlying friendship should be inalienable, and moments of anger or unhappiness should be but fleeting. This is a rather quixotic interpretation of the term, granted, and perhaps an unrealistic one; but this is an exercise in ideality, so we shall allow this vision nonetheless.

Yet people often end up being rather strongly distressed by friends, close friends, or loved ones; society rationalizes that such unidealities are a necessary component of relationships. While this may perhaps be true, it does not preclude the premise that the acceptance of many problems results from arrangements of convenience, which yield local, but not absolute, maxima. Do we settle because one must compromise, or because it is easier to pretend that we must? Only with honest self-reflection can that be answered.

This concept of unideal acquaintanceships can be generalized to broader modes of behavior as well. Jobs, academic paths, lifestyle choices -- are they circumstantial acquaintances, or true friends? It’s awfully easy to blend familiarity with affinity. More insidious are acquaintanceships with beliefs; various political identifications, religions, and philosophical values have been in our environment for a while, and many have fraternized with certain ones for a while. Whether due to childhood indoctrination, subsequent pressures, reactionary tendencies, or extraordinary experiences, many of these beliefs befriend us rather strongly. Here, more than ever, it is imperative that we allow for periodic honest self-reflection as we meticulously examine our convictions. Are they truly right, are they merely convenient in a given environment, or are we just content that after X years of pondering, we’ve finally figured it out?

Single-serving packets or discount bulk pack, what we choose to consume becomes part of us. The results of a healthful or poor diet often aren’t manifested immediately, if at all, making it easy for us to forget what we’re feeding into our system. What values, which people, what actions support and define us? The key to proper existential nutrition is balance, of course, achieved through conscientious effort. The take-home lesson: eat your vegetables.