A Bitter Pill to Swallow
One of the defining factors of my senior year seems to have been bitterness. I found lots of things to be bitter about — the less savory aspects of high school, the entire college application process, all my perceived personal failings — but most of all, I was bitter about the state of mental health at MSJ. I started out the school year enthusiastic about enacting change through campus initiatives dedicated to student well-being, but within a few months, even those platforms started to feel stifling. Mental health, it seemed, was such a deeply rooted problem that nothing we tried would ever truly improve it. And if working with a group of students devoted to the cause barely allowed me to make an impact, what hope did we really have?
As the year wore on, my friends and I regularly discussed student mental health, but our conversations were almost entirely composed of criticism; I’d essentially given up on the idea of successfully addressing the issue. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t allowed myself to grow so bitter, as my defeatist attitude only made failure inevitable. Just because it seems impossible to improve student well-being doesn’t mean we should stop trying — as long as people are trying, then we have a chance at real change. There isn’t any single sweeping solution, so we need to respect even the tiny victories.
If all you do is criticize, then you’ll never get anything done; the list of grievances will simply grow and the bitterness will consume you. Imagine how much more comprehensive our campus resources could be if every person who recognized a weakness in them took the initiative to do something about it — knowing how to criticize is important, but the criticism doesn’t do anyone any good unless you push off of it and attempt to create change. There may be things that you can’t do anything about, but there are just as many areas that you could potentially impact.
Letting go of bitterness isn’t easy, but it will give you freedom — you need to recognize that it’s hurting you and be willing to do something much harder: to work to improve the world based on what you’ve learned from the failures that made you angry in the first place.
Staying Conscientiously Connected
Between tearful goodbyes and tight hugs, the friend group I was a part of during a summer program made a promise: we would stay in touch, no matter what. We knew it was unrealistic to expect getting on weekly facetimes and maintaining an ever-active group chat. However, we didn’t despair, knowing that platforms like Instagram and Snapchat would give us the ability to stay connected with each other’s lives. Yet, almost a year and thousands of posts, stories, and direct messages later, I feel completely disconnected with them due to the impersonal use of social media.
Each day, my friend’s adventures graced my feeds, giving me an idea of what was going on in their lives and creating the illusion of staying connected. As I commented “gorgeous! miss you 🙁 ” or heart eye reacted to their stories, I felt solace in sharing moments of their lives with them. I was convinced that I knew exactly what they were going through. One friend was positively glowing in her new post — she must be thriving this year and enjoying every day. Another was making daily stories displaying her boba addiction — she must be going out often with a fun friend group. However, now that I “knew” what was happening in my friend’s lives, I felt less incentivized to engage in direct interaction, especially with those I hadn’t talked to for a while. After all, wasn’t all that they were sharing, and subsequent comments or reactions, enough?
I’ve seen friends go through a similar mental process as they scroll through their feed, leaving comments and responding to stories to “stay connected.” The ability to virtually be there with people we care about in important moments is fulfilling. But sometimes, we aren’t there as friends as much as we’re there as an audience for their online public personas. When we limit our interactions to comments or reactions, we begin simply watching and remarking on small, carefully presented segments of our friend’s lives passively. Even on spam accounts, which are meant exclusively for friends, there are sentiments that people struggle to share, which may only be revealed in one-on-one conversations.
This isn’t to say that social media is entirely ineffective in connecting people. In fact, it’s a powerful tool to bridge distances, especially now, in a time where in-person communication is impossible. However, how we engage with this tool is vital to maintaining genuine connections. Every time you scroll through your feed you have a choice: to engage with people’s public personas or to intentionally strike up a conversation through messages or calls. So let’s stay curious about what happens beyond the posts and stories, and in that, we can stay connected.
Graphic by Web Editor Gregory Wu