It’s a trend that I initially started to realize during the middle of first semester, and as time went on, it became more apparent to me. Maybe it’s because we are all in the confines of the hallowed and respected institution of Princeton, where students have for past two hundred or so years have traversed these ancient halls in the pursuit of academic excellence and intellectual invigoration. Maybe it’s simply the effect of being around so many smart people.
But regardless of the reason, everywhere on campus – at the mahogany tables in the dining halls, at the plushy recliners in Frist, even in the restrooms – more often than not, the interactions and discussions between people tend to involve some intellectual strain of thought, some element of academia.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with having an interesting discussion with friends about academic matters. After all, one of the best ways to develop thoughts is to bounce ideas off others, to get their criticism and feedback, in turn allowing someone to refine an argument or solidify a nascent fledgling spark of an idea into a cohesive one
But at the same time, it seems that the need to think “big thoughts” might be a little too omnipresent, and in its omnipresence, can even be stifling and repressive. After all, when you try to attach significance to every little thing, some of the fun is inevitably lost. While Game of Thrones may be an addicting pastime, it becomes difficult not to ponder questions of sociopolitical stratification, moral corruption, and other grandiose issues (take your pick – there are lots to chose from) without taking some of the fun out of the blood, sex, and drama of the show.
Why might such a recursive tendency to search for greater meaning arise in the first place? Part of the reason might be that we inevitably carry over the themes and topics we learn in class to our everyday lives. At the same time, a general belief that education should extend “beyond the classroom” likely contributes to this as well. We are taught that the material we learn should serve as merely a basis for a broader intellectual scope, and that, outside of class time, we should strive to be “thinkers” in our own right. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with applying greater considerations to daily life occurrences and with trying to draw significance from them. But it does seem that this trend can extend too far.
Even when I was trying to come up with a topic to write about for a column, I initially began by seeking out provocative issues facing Princeton students on campus, problems that require consideration and discussion, but found that I was having difficulty identifying one. This made me question whether the academically focused atmosphere at Princeton might actually be stifling for simple musing and whimsical thought.
I was reminded of a discussion I had, just a few days ago, about a thoroughly trivial topic – something about boba pearls vs. fruit filled boba (which are apparently called frooba; who knew?). The discussion came during a jaunt to Fruity Yogurt, naturally, and despite its completely trifling subject matter, I found it to be a refreshing change of pace. No mention was made of the dialectical differences between the vernacular for “tapioca pearls” between the east and west coast, nothing was said about the economic implications of the recent boom in frozen yogurt as a substitute to ice cream.
Though it may seem obvious, it is nice to let go and think “silly” thoughts at times. It’s ok that not everything you say or do has particular significance. However, on a campus like Princeton, where academics is such an overarching component of daily life, it is sometimes all to easy to forget this simple fact. Recently, I saw a group of students flipping through a couple pieces of student-produced literature (among them the Daily Prince and the Nassau weekly), only to comment on how all the articles were “meaningless and stupid.” But isn’t that sometimes the point? Stepping outside the world of academic considerations can of course be de-stressing, and it also fosters mental relaxation. So don’t always feel obliged to perpetually think on a macro-level, cosmic scale. It’s ok to have nothing left to say, or at least nothing particularly insightful.
Jason Choe is a freshman from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.