BEZAWADA: We need to accept our pasts in order to mature as we age
Opinions Column: Traipse the Fine Line
If you’re a Scarlet Knight, chances are you’ve heard some forms of the initials “J.P.” Maybe they were followed by “high school” or, more commonly, “where hopes and dreams go to die” in the form of tanked GPAs and other unfortunate aspects of insane academic competition. If you haven’t, you’ll definitely come across them at some point — practically half of the entire student population winds up here. I know this because I was a J.P. Stevens High School student. Please don’t hate me.
But see, that’s exactly the point. Nobody wants to remember who they once were, or even associate with people from that time. Us J.P. Hawks really are birds of prey — solitary. The number of times I greeted a former classmate here on campus (not counting close friends) or made direct eye contact with someone but got ignored is, to be honest, rather dryly amusing. But that doesn’t include the number of people who asked for the name of my high school, then pretend they've heard somebody's name when they actually haven’t.
I recall sixth grade distinctly. I had finished first marking period with a B- in one of my classes. The teacher began the next half of the semester saying, “It’s a clean slate now. We can all start over.” Brainwashed sixth-grade me believed this, until later that day, when a sound lecture by my parents informed me otherwise.
Of course, grades don’t mean everything. What’s true is nobody can truly start over. But we can work with what we are now and make it better. Ignoring our past changes nothing. If that’s the case, then why even attend college?
All humans, not just J.P. kids, possess a certain tendency to mask. They delete old pictures where their skin is pimpled or unevenly tanned. They scrap old drawings. They sneer at audio recordings of their voices and laugh at their old “accomplishments,” which consisted of winning a toy at an arcade game. They deny, ignore, fabricate. The content seems innocent enough, but the psychology goes deeper, wider and more sinister. Large groups of people continue to overlook misogyny, racism and other forms of rampant discrimination. Even more so for scientific issues such as deforestation, global warming and a rapidly escalating human population. Reality is stark, but it doesn’t negate the past. Erasing or neglecting it abolishes any chance we have to progress.
But why do people mask? Perhaps because it’s easier. They say ignorance is bliss. Bringing up the past makes things more complicated, more emotionally taxing: but at the same time, more bland and mundane. After all, what’s winning a cheap plastic trophy at a summer soccer camp compared to winning a million-dollar cash prize like Rutgers Business School’s Hult Prize-winning “Roshni Rides” team? We’re always raised to standards, and when we see someone who looks better, thinks smarter and seems just all-around better, we end up feeling worse. Might as well assume nothing happened in the first place. The problem with this masking mindset is we’re comparing the worst of ourselves with the best of others, ignoring the hard work we’ve all put in to reach certain points in our lives. Removing your glasses to calm your nerves in front of a wide audience doesn’t make you, or them, any less visible. It’s the same concept.
In that sense, then maybe it’s the spotlight that’s intimidating. When you greet a classmate you haven’t talked to in a while, the unspoken awkward, please-forget-this-ever-happened moments hang in the air like an unresolved feud. Each of you thinks the other knows, but neither wants to address it first. So on you go to a stalemate of small talk and meaningless chatter that both of you yearn to get over but somehow just cannot, because nobody’s willing to admit to their own mistakes. You’ve seen this before. World politics thrive on stalemates. So does history’s wars or current demonstrations of brutality.
Of course, a failed conversation won’t instigate King Neptune-crowd-sized armies to hoist battle axes and shout war cries. But when millions of confrontations over varying degrees of failure, from silly to epic to dangerous, occur constantly, people begin to judge wrongly and misunderstandings start to build. And these misunderstandings erupt in frustration that hurt everybody.
It is important to meet new people and embrace new trends. But only by accepting blunders of the past can we overcome the infuriating barrier that divides ourselves from who we used to be. We’re only human. And once that happens, we can learn to love ourselves for our imperfections and abilities — which we all share. So before you choose to duck beneath a former classmate’s eyes, at least try? It’s their loss if they don’t.
Also, if anyone from J.P. is reading this, please say “hi.” I’ll try not to make it too awkward, I promise.
Sruti Bezawada is a Rutgers Business School first-year hoping to transfer into the School of Arts and Sciences and double major in computer science and communications. Her column, “Traipse the Fine Line,” runs on alternate Thursdays.
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