Death By Zeitgeist
My LeaderShape ReformationBy Devdoot Majumdar
I’m not a very good person. Nor a very nice person, for that matter. Over the years, I’ve grown both self-infatuated and overly dismissive of people, primarily you, the average MIT student. There’s always something off about most of you - you’re emotionally needy, you’re socially inept, you’re immodestly arrogant; so it goes. But I suppose that when I began idolizing Simon Cowell, it stunted my growth as a person. On a happier note, though few of you will be useful as future Rolodex references, there are definitely times when I find something amorphously redeemable about most MIT kids.
It was in this grumpy spirit that I went last week to an MIT-sponsored program called LeaderShape, a six-day leadership camp out in Sharon, Massachusetts. In a freshmen-heavy group of sixty kids, I decided that I’d either remain aloof or be myself. As I gave up being saccharine at the end of my sophomore year, I wasn’t all that interested in practicing my technique at 8.01 small talk. And furthermore, as I saw it, most of the kids going to LeaderShape would inevitably be the type that sits and waits for the chirping to begin before crossing Massachusetts Ave.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I was wrong. I will openly admit that roughly half of my opinions actually have any sort of factual backing. The rest are simply intellectual ejaculations in hopes of provoking conversation. Without fail, I offended a good third of the kids at LeaderShape as a result, but the other two-thirds at least pretended to like me, at some level. And I think I liked them too, at some level.
An anonymous source high up in the administration warned me in an e-mail this morning not to give away many of the details of the program. On paper, LeaderShape is your standard “be a good person” program. In person, it’s more of a social experiment that works like Sartre’s “No Exit,” but in a good way. In “No Exit,” you find three people who have just died and are stuck in a room together for eternity (their own personal hell). In LeaderShape, you find sixty kids stuck in a Salvation Army conference center who manage to let down their defenses, tone down the self-consciousness, and play mafia for six days.
And though I didn’t grow as a leader, the program made me grow as a person. For the sake of those who write letters to The Tech complaining about my internecine remarks, I’d like to lay on the sappiness in the next several paragraphs. I’m still confident I’ll be able to offend someone.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and talk about religion. I don’t enjoy riding on the T and being asked to sell my soul to L. Ron Hubbard. My soul belongs to Ganesha, as far as you’re concerned, even if the Native Americans saw Jesus too. So, I always approach devoutly religious people with a grain of salt because I’m afraid of meandering into pleasant conversation only to be thrilled with the prospect of being proselytized. If I’m being ignorant, it’s only because of years of being a heathenous pagan.
Anyhow, to keep the tirade short, I mentioned that I was going to hell a few times throughout LeaderShape. And so I ended up having a nice conscientious discussion about religion; so much so that I wouldn’t mind figuring out why so few Christians know anything about Deuteronomy. That’s reason number one as for why I’m a better person.
The second reason I’m a better person has to do with frat boys. I probably met more of them in six days than I had in four years. And they’re not so bad. I always had the frats separated into first, second, third, and forgettable tiers. But LeaderShape taught me that fraternities get their reputation because of the desirability of their brothers. And frankly, if you’re looking for an Asian Christian you go one place and if you’re looking for a public urinator, you go elsewhere. That doesn’t make one better than another, just different. The stratification is purely based on the tastes of the very different demographics of young ladies at MIT. And there’s no way I’m going to base my rankings of fraternities based on the questionable taste of the young ladies at MIT. As a result, I’d be happy to tell any of you freshmen what precisely makes any given fraternity “special,” but now they’re all “special.”
Finally, reason number three as to why I’m a better person is that I grew a sense of repentance. The phrase “I’m sorry” was certainly not in short supply at Leadershape as I apologized to Christians, McCormick girls, and frat boys alike.
They say that the more you use “sorry,” the cheaper it gets. I find I can only be unrepentant when I don’t care about the people who get offended -- it’s usually their fault anyhow. At LeaderShape, I grew a conscience and began to understand true remorse, at some level.
After LeaderShape, I came home to find my friends ridiculing my positive attitude. I really had no defense for becoming a more positive person, so I called them insecure and slowly became my former self. If you have beef, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.