Students at Swarthmore generally range from ages 18 to 22, yet many students here take themselves as seriously as a lawyer in front of the Supreme Court. We constantly stress about getting the best grades, the best internships, and presenting ourselves as poised, intelligent people who never make mistakes. Although it is important to get good grades and work to better yourself, it is also important to realize that you are in college and it is okay to make mistakes.
This is not the generic “you should go have fun and party more” argument that people often make around campus. Instead this is an argument for laughing at yourself. Whether you answered a question wrong in a big lecture, accidentally forgot to attach your paper to that email to your professor, or just dropped your cup in Sharples, it is okay to laugh at yourself. In fact, laughing at yourself can sometimes be the only way to get through this school.
Expectations on this campus are high, and they should be: for academics, for accountability, for how we treat each other. We should work to be the best students and people we can, be but it is also okay if we screw up sometimes. It is also okay if we screw up a lot.
The things that we do here are not life or death. Getting a B in a class or embarrassing yourself in front of your friends or being wrong in a facebook argument is not going to alter the path of your life forever. As generic as it sounds, it can never be said enough: you often learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes.
It is important to take a step back and realize that we are in a unique environment. Where else would you see posters advertising events about the the female orgasm and anti-capitalist clubs? Where else can almost every student know about every controversy on campus, and where else does everybody have an opinion on the matter?
Taking a step back might allow us to realize that our time here is not like anywhere else; this place is not only idiosyncratic, it’s also really intense. And sometimes, it can be funny. Sometimes we need to give ourselves a break, and focus on the funny.
Along with ourselves, we need to give the people around us a break. We need to recognize that people around us will make mistakes and forgive them for it. For example, if you find yourself in an argument with a fellow swattie, and that swattie subsequently makes an outrageous and possibly offensive statement, it’s always good to first give the benefit of the doubt. Often, one thing that someone says can be misinterpreted and cause a lot of pain. However, take a step back and ask for clarification. Maybe what they said was outrageous and offensive and then a conversation can pursue. But a lot of the time students just misspeak, and assuming good intent goes a long way.
Laughter won’t solve everything; honestly, it probably won’t solve much. But it’s a good way to deal with uncomfortable things, it’s a good defense mechanism, and it sure makes you feel a lot better.