You see it all around you. You witness its effects while walking to class, eating in the Student Center or trying to survive your Thursday and Friday lectures to embrace the joy of the coming weekend. Heads are hung low, eyes are locked on the ground and minds are deep in thought about any number of countless events in our lives. The cinematic experience overwhelmed me while walking to class one day; it was a brisk autumn morning, and as I watched countless people exit the building alone with their gaze fixed on their own feet, “Eleanor Rigby” surfaced on my iPod’s shuffle.
People flocked in the same direction at an arm’s length and spoke no words to each other as McCartney’s lyrics streamed through my headphones. All the lonely people, where do they all come from, all the lonely people, where do they all belong?
It’s no question that Tech is a campus plagued by loneliness. Statistics set aside, it only takes a look in the faces of the people you pass by between classes or a brief scan of slivers to find there are high numbers of Tech students who seem depressed, a condition for which loneliness is a powerful catalyst. I wouldn’t go to say this means that lots of Tech students don’t have friends. In fact I’m confident that they all do: we couldn’t survive this place without people to kick back with and forget about that test you just bombed. After all, walking to class alone does not mean you’re lonely or friendless. It’s that we rarely take those relationships we already have and move them deeper than surface level.
We live in a world where personal independence is held in high regard and any reliance on others is viewed as a weakness. We are told to conform to a culture where we isolate our feelings and can’t open up to others from the fear of vulnerability. We’ve been conditioned to understand that anytime we step out and become vulnerable, someone will take advantage of it. Even worse, cultural norms convince us that our substitutes for deep relationships with others are better and more advanced than the real thing. Social networking sites and high tech devices that promise to do more to connect us with our friends and families ironically isolate us and widen the gap. The ease of communications has conditioned us to be satisfied with 160 character updates on the status of people’s lives.
These pressures coerce us to grow content with the state of our friendships, rarely moving past a surface level relationship based on humor and mutual desire for association, and I don’t think that’s how we were meant to live. People need a close-knit community of friends they can trust, care about and open up to, while knowing they are trusted, cared for and respected in return. There is an incredible feeling of joy and purpose when you truly know someone and they completely know you as well. Until you’ve experienced what that’s like, it’s impossible to know what you’re missing out on. I’m afraid that many people have yet to realize the void we’ve created.
One of the obstacles in moving to this level of a friendship is apprehension. As I mentioned before, allowing other people to really know you requires vulnerability. You have to be able to trust your friends with both the exceptional and uncomfortable moments of your life. It takes the courage to the show the skeletons in your closet and the problems you deal with that you aren’t particularly proud of. However we so often find that when we finally open that door, the fear of being humiliated and ostracized is quickly replaced by a comfort that you aren’t the only person facing those struggles. This realization brings the freedom from having to face the hardest times of your life alone.
Not only does it require vulnerability, but a deep relationship takes commitment and time – the latter being something Tech students seem to lack. It can also necessitate giving your relationships precedence over other areas in our life. Yes, even schoolwork. Unfortunately, Tech has done a decent job of convincing students that an education is the only useful thing you can take away from here. This pretense has skewed our priorities away from things that matter more. Yes, your degree is important. But the way you impact people’s lives can make a much bigger difference in our world.
The greatest outcome of deepening relationships is that you grow selfless. As you learn more about your friends and begin to know them on a deeper level, you learn how to love them. I think a little bit more love is something everyone on our campus needs.