Yet another post inspired by my communications class. In all honesty, I think this may be the best class I’ll ever take in some ways because of just how impactful it’s proving to be. I’ve had a lot of classes where the teacher is amazing and/or is really enjoyable. I’ve also had classes that I can’t stand for one reason or another; this may be the first class I’ve had that legitimately alters how I view people and the world. If you read my last post, you’ll see that I’m already changing as a result of just a few classes and questioning people and reality. This time I’m going to share about our first “assignment” which was called “Bus Stop.”
The basic idea is this: How often do we go somewhere and refuse to talk to anyone standing or sitting next to us, like at a bus stop? Most of the time we pretend the other person doesn’t exist. We stare at our phones, put in our earbuds, read a book or a magazine, or literally anything to avoid contact with other humans. If we do by chance speak, it’s almost always one or two word greetings.
“How are you?”
That ends the conversation. My professor describes this as a symptom of living in a “One-Word Society.” Nobody opens up and answers the question honestly, or not completely honestly. Nobody will admit that their day has been awful to a complete stranger and nobody will share that their day has been wonderful. I’m guilty of this too. I don’t usually answer with stories even though that’s what the person technically asked for. At the same time, I kind of don’t expect more than “good” in response to the question either even though I would love to hear more.
Something about my generation baffles me. All I see out of this generation is self centered and individualistic, which can be really good or really lousy. We all assume we have a right to be heard and we’re taught that our opinion matters and all sorts of “You’re special” kind of language. To an extent, I believe that. However, when this idea is taken too far it can trample over other people who are being told the same thing. We have the right to talk to whoever we want, but we get annoyed when people break out of the “One Word Society.” We don’t usually want to hear about a stranger’s problems or how their day is going; it’s just common courtesy to ask should you be forced into brief conversation with them.
But this “Bust Stop” assignment basically flipped that trope on its head. The professor, in class, told us all to stand up and talk to a complete stranger from within the class and hold a conversation for give or take give minutes. We all did so. Then we had to do it again with a different stranger. From there, he asked us to, over the three day weekend, do it two more times with complete strangers. In the way he put it, it sounded so rewarding. If you think about it, what do you risk in talking to a stranger? If things go wrong, what’s the realistic worst that could happen? Most likely they ignore you or you sit in awkward silence for a few minutes and then never see the person again. But think about the potential benefits. The professor shared several stories, but the most impressive was shy guy sitting on a bus and he started talking to a pretty girl, claiming that it was for the assignment. They’re married now. Because of just talking to a stranger, the dude found his wife. That’s not always going to happen, but it can lead to really awesome things. A nice conversation, maybe a job opening, a good friend, or anything else. In other words, the potential reward far outweighs the potential risks, but none of us take advantage of that. In the business world, to borrow his analogy again, if you had to spend $100 to potentially profit $1000, would you do it? Of course you would! Why is it so different when talking to people?
I don’t know. Maybe some people want to blame their parents for telling them not to talk to strangers, but I think all of us know by now that talking to other adults as an adult is very unlikely to result in kidnapping or murder or something horrendous that parents warn their children about. My theory is simple entitlement mixed with fear. We live in a culture where we can’t offend anyone or waste their time. We’ve become so obsessed with pleasing everyone that we don’t dare intrude on another person’s time. At the same time though, and I thought this was pretty true, we’re all looking for someone to talk to. We’re social beings who thrive on interpersonal communication and in fact rely on it to survive. We may try to minimize it through technology, but we still have to communicate with people in school, when ordering food, playing sports, etc. I see a lot of comments on social media about social anxiety and “hating other people” that just baffles me. I understand that social anxiety is a legitimate concern, but I also think it’s a front people put up to avoid talking to people and in a way draw people to themselves. People use their issues to say “I’m a special case and need special treatment or privilege.” This goes beyond just talking to other people, but that’s not the point of this post. And why do people hate people? I get frustrated with people as much as the next, but I don’t look at people nearby and instantly hate them. I don’t think that’s possible. Fight me all you want on this, but I think there’s a point to be made that people make/use excuses to avoid talking to other people in an attempt to feel special in some way.
This culture though needs to change. I truly don’t know exactly where it came from, only that it exists. I guess it doesn’t even matter much why it exists. I bet you want to know about my two bus stop conversations. I had a couple digitally, but those don’t count as much as the real ones I had. The real life ones took place the night before I had the class. I was looking for some friends in their room but they weren’t there so I just went and sat nearby on a couch. I heard someone coming and I looked up to see a guy coming back from the shower with nothing but a towel around his waist and shower supplies in his hands. He said hello, I said hello back, and I saw what door he went into. It turns out he was the new roommate of somebody I knew, so I asked him if he was the new roommate. He said yes and I responded with, “Good luck.” I thought nothing of it until he came out a few minutes later (wearing pants this time but no shirt) and said, “I know this is a weird question, but do you want a pear?” I accepted the pear and he explained his parents had sent too many pears, so he was going to give some away. I then pointed him toward my friends’ room and I think we said a little more in passing, but that was it. I’ve seen him around a little but haven’t said anything else even though I know I should. I don’t know how many people he knows here and I could always use another friend so I’m going to resolve to do something about it the next time I see him alone, which mind you is going to be extremely difficult.
I actually have two more though that are a little more in depth. I met two more guys a few minutes after the pear dude. One of them is in the communications class with me ironically and is from Japan. We talked a little about where we came from and a little about TV and language and I learned their names and so on.
That was just the first step though because it’s only week two of second semester. I’m going to be living with these people, more or less, for the next fifteen weeks. This assignment is really challenging me, even though I’ve technically completed it, to go outside everyone’s comfort zone and talk to people. It’s changing how I see them. They’re not some foreign object or a stranger, they’re just another person that could be my friend and may be in need of a friend. It’s so hard to do something about it though. I hate that it’s so hard. Why couldn’t I have been born more outgoing so I could just start up conversations? I can respond to outgoing people really well, but I can’t do it as easily.
This also relates to something that happened last night. I was a few minutes late to my Intervarsity large group and I didn’t get to sit next to anyone I knew. But as I sat in the back listening to the message and staring at the backs of everyone’s heads (I was in the last row), I got really sad. I wanted to talk to people. I have a lot going on in my head right now and I want someone I can go and talk to. I know I have plenty of people who say they’ll listen if I ever want to talk, but it’s never the right person. Maybe I’m just an awful, judgmental person or picky or whatever, but there are some things you don’t want to talk about with certain people, or there are certain people you want to talk to but don’t have a relationship with that person that would enable you to talk to them. I saw several people last night that I don’t frequently speak to but I want to speak to them more. Something holds me back though. I chicken out every time. I even left early because I was just not happy and wanted to go back home instead of being around other people and wandering around not talking to other people. Either way, I’m making it my mission to jump on opportunities I see. Even if the other person looks a little busy or perfectly content being alone, I’m going to make it my goal to suck up my cowardice and just sit with them. My rule will be that they have to be alone in order to make it a little easier (at least to start). I also will have to do it even if I’m with my friends at the time. If I see someone sitting alone, I will go and speak to them if I’m not going to/from class or something like that.
Speaking of these changing views of people, I have one more to share with you. This is a departure from the “Bus Stop” assignment, but it still changed my views a little bit. How many of you have heard of 5 Seconds of Summer? They’re a band I don’t listen to much, but they do have one song that I really enjoy (so far). It’s called “She Looks So Perfect” and it’s more the video that changed my views than the lyrics. Here’s the video below. I urge you to watch the entire thing even though it is kind of a bizarre video and some parts might not be very attractive.
To address the elephant in the room, people start taking off their clothes and dancing around and causing chaos. The lyrics, from what I gather, are all about loving someone who other people don’t approve of. It’s Romeo and Juliet-esque in the sense that the love is forbidden or limited by other people. This song celebrates breaking out of that mold and not letting others bring you down for what you want, especially if it’s not “ideal.”
I could talk more about lyrics, but I want to focus on the video. It’s a strange one. From the moment that girl starts unbuttoning her shirt and the guy rips off his pants, it’s just a whirlwind. Usually I write to a certain crowd because I know some people who always read this and I tailor my posts to that audience, but I don’t want to do that this time. I’m going to step out of my bias and talk just about gut reaction for a second. I’ve been told many times that as a Christian I have to maintain an image or Jesus’ sake. Everything I do should be representative of Jesus or honor him in some way. I’ve seen other people being told this too. I could debate that point for a long time and get nowhere, but let’s just address this aspect of nudity.
The first guy is in nothing but briefs that do nothing to hide his junk. The women are all in standard underwear and bras. My first reaction was that this shouldn’t happen or be celebrated because bodies are meant for two people: you and your spouse. By that I meant that other people shouldn’t be seeing your breasts or penis or vagina or anything like that. In a word, modesty. I value modesty, but modesty is also subjective in practice. Some cultures are still primitive and wear nothing for a variety of reasons. Other cultures dress modestly just because it’s cold. This ties in pretty closely with the debate about breast feeding in public. Our bodies are very sexualized, especially women. I won’t take a stand about women being topless or breast feeding in public in this post, but I will take a stance that is related to those topics. The body is, in my opinion, far too sexualized all around. I’ve been told to dress modestly in order to not tempt others or, in certain cases, offend someone (in the case of the mission trips I’ve been on). I don’t have a big issue with modesty, but I think that modesty is in a way silly. Think about it. A modest swimsuit for a man is trunks and no shirt. Now just assume this man is obscenely ripped. He’s got abs and a big chest and massive arms. All the girls stare at him. Is that swimsuit still modest? If the point of modesty is to stop other people from lusting over you, then you need to do more. But if this guy is really attractive in the face, he’ll still be attractive. If he has a nice body, you’ll still be able to tell when he has his clothes on. The same goes for women. So why is it that modesty exists in the way it does? I sound a little like Miley Cyrus, but why are women’s nipples taboo but men’s aren’t? I’m not calling for anything, but I’m just trying to point out a little bit of gray area when it comes to our bodies.
But back to the video. I really liked that this video did what it did: it celebrated all bodies. There were high school students, young men and women, middle aged men and women, and even an old woman. There were beautiful women and stunning men, there were (in my opinion) very unattractive men and women, and there were some who were just average. Every age and every body type is represented in there. What really draws my attention is that beyond the near nudity, everyone is okay with it. There are skinny people and fat people interacting with each other as if nothing is wrong. There isn’t any shame in their own bodies. People who are told their body is ugly are proud of themselves. Men and women are together, young and old are together, and they’re all just celebrating having fun. If you ask me, there’s no sexual vibe in this video (except for maybe the obese woman and obese man). All I get out of this video is accepting people for more than their body and challenging stigmas against attractive bodies, unattractive bodies, and nudity. Nobody is fully nude and everything is covered. What I’m getting at is just this sense of “You’re fat? Who cares? You’re thin? Awesome. You’re jacked? Good for you. Got some curves? Flaunt them!” I get that being obese or too thin is unhealthy, but damaging a person’s emotions or self confidence is not an excuse to bully a person with an unhealthy body. To quote J.K. Rowling, “Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive,’ ‘jealous,’ ‘shallow,’ ‘vain,’ ‘boring,’ or ‘cruel?’ Not to me.” It’s more important to me that a person is happy with themselves than healthy, though that is also important. I think you can see what I mean. It’s refreshing to see a bunch of people accepting the way their body is, not caring about their own or anybody else’s, and having a good time and being happy. Plus, the song is great. I’ve listened to it like a dozen times since last night.
So that’s it. It’s okay to be attracted to someone and it’s okay not to be attracted to someone, but it’s not an excuse to treat them differently. Body image issues are a problem EVERYONE struggles with. I have them, many of you probably have them or have had them. The only way you’ll be able to change though is if you don’t let them destroy you. Go out and meet new people that you’ve never met before. There’s no such thing as too many friends or acquaintances, and you might be able to help somebody else out. My view of people is much different, and now I find I like people a lot more. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.