The Social Egoist in Us

By Welmoed van Ens

Campus culture is participatory, and the possibilities to conform to this norm are endless. Committee meetings, dinner dates, party nights and friendly conversations consume our time. We are constantly socializing and therefore, we boast, we are social.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore campus. From sitting down with people I barely know in dining hall and joining their conversations, to seeing familiar faces in the bar. I even find delight in watching gossip spread like fire, literally hearing a story travel from building to building. I relish the sense of community brought about by changing seasons, when everyone gathers outside to build snowmen or soak up the first rays of sun.

But enough with the praise. Let me get back to our understanding of the concept ‘social’, which I happen to think is incorrect. We tend to measure ‘social’ by number of events attended, the size of our circle of friends and perhaps our extracurricular activities. This definition is so narrow that it strips social of its meaning and degrades it to a quantitative measure of social interactions.

What happened to social as an attitude towards a community, towards life? Does ‘being social’ not involve considering the consequences of your actions for others anymore? Not really. Being social at UCU includes roaming around campus in the early morning, loudly and drunkenly reciting the lyrics to your favorite Carly Rae Jepsen song. With your friends, of course. Lest someone think of you as anti-social.

Our interpretation of ‘social’ inevitably leads to egoistic behaviour. Having fun has become the holy grail of socializing, even if it happens at the expense of others. This surprisingly narrow minded attitude is completely incompatible with the intelligence and social skills that are supposed to define UCU students. Why can’t we all man up and invest two minutes a day in doing dishes and taking out the trash?

What frustrates me is that confronting anyone about their noisy, smelly, messy or drunken behaviour is not accepted here, and will earn you a reply like: “We’re students, just deal with it.” Might I ask which divine authority has decided that students are magically excused from the responsibility to act as rational and considerate human beings? Why do students think that, to take full advantage of the freedom they have at college, it is absolutely necessary not to care about what anyone tells them?

My guess is that we are dealing with an epidemic of allergies. Not to nuts, dairy or pollen, but to any authority even vaguely resembling parental tyranny. Symptoms include (but are not limited to) refusal to do ones dishes, uncontrolled partying, and an aggressive attitude towards anyone who appeals to your responsibility as a member of our community. For some, college is where they finally break free from parental restrictions and redefine their identity. The allergies play a vital role in this process, so growing up and settling down seems to be the only cure.

Still, can’t we put our youthful egocentrism aside for a second and look at the consequences? It is time for our community to redefine the ‘social’. Let’s include being thoughtful and considerate, and treating everyone we meet with respect. Let’s get into the habit of actually replacing the milk we “borrowed” from our unitmate for breakfast, and bringing our keys when we go out instead of frantically ringing doorbells at 4 in the morning. Let’s measure social by dishes done and hugs given. A little too utopian? Maybe, but to me, what you are willing to do for others is a better measure of how social you are, than whether or not you frequently visit the bar.


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