Crush. When I first received an email about this week’s Campus Journal theme, I felt a wave of excitement. After all, I spent countless (and I really want to emphasize the word “countless”) hours last semester devoted to writing and copy-editing for The Phoenix, and greatly looked forward to this semester’s challenges. The email’s subject line read, “CJ IS BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” with exactly that number of exclamation points, and after several sentences outlining the general premise of Campus Journal, the words “the theme is CRUSH” appeared on the screen. The word “crush” stood out in a font size approximately six times larger than any other word in the email.
My mind went blank. The simple five-letter word evoked an embarrassingly large album of memories and mental images for me. Some of these, of course, entailed the most common definition of crush: the feeling of romantic or platonic love. Some involved the idea of being physically crushed by a person or object. Crush, the second-rate orange-flavored soda, came to mind. And despite the plethora of images and memories that I associated with “crush,” my mind went blank for an entire week as I contemplated and revised ideas that fit the general “crush” theme.
In other words. To put it simply. I felt crushed. Crush crushed me.
Crushing and being crushed, however, doesn’t always have to carry its typical heartbreaking and unequivocally painful connotation. Crushing, in my humble experience, has the capability of becoming both uplifting, and on the other hand, well, crushing in the most fundamental sense of the word.
What has always struck me about Swarthmore is that it stands as an institution in which everyone has, over time, developed a profound appreciation for the crushing sensation. That is, in which everyone has learned to appreciate the strengthening nature that challenges tend to pose to one’s very sense of self. On the other hand, however, we often underestimate the force of the crushing sensation. In this, we ultimately fail to draw reasonable distinctions between the beneficial varieties of crushes — the romantic, the growth-inducing, the think-outside-the-box crushes — and those that overwhelm us to the point of inevitable failure.
Quite frankly, in some capacity, Swarthmore College manages to crush me every single day. Sometimes, this crushing forces me to exit my comfort zone and explore avenues that I never would have otherwise considered. Oftentimes, experiences at the College not only crush me, but make me feel as if every part of me is drowning. For example, while brainstorming for overly-abstract Campus Journal themes crushed me in the sense of forcing me to commit to less-concrete, freer modes of thought, MATH 026 (Advanced Topics in Single Variable Calculus) crushed my life, my soul, and my general self-esteem. The former mode of crushing, though difficult, proved rewarding when I stared at the shape of my words on a formerly-blank Word document and thought about how, mere hours ago, that exact pattern of words had never existed. The latter extended me nothing, no mental recompense, except for a sigh of relief when the ordeal finally ended.
Not all crushes are created equally, and indeed, the prescriptive notion that all challenges are made for all people is plainly false. Perhaps it rests as a matter of personal preference, but I wish that I had learned earlier in life that blindly facing all challenges and crushing scenarios regardless of one’s strengths and weaknesses is not nobler than picking and choosing one’s battles. While this criticism is not at all unique to Swarthmore, it is especially pertinent in our liberal arts bubble which encourages oftentimes-unhealthy challenges with a fatal evenhandedness.
It’s often said that we need to choose the hills that we want to die on, so that we don’t find ourselves caught up on emotional-yet-meaningless discourse. In this vein, I believe that we as a society also need to exercise far more caution when it comes to choosing the ordeals that we allow to crush us. If we refuse to discriminate between which crushes are worthwhile and which are not, the crushes that truly matter for one’s personal development fail to maintain any sort of meaning. Similarly, if we fail to challenge and, in the process, crush ourselves, then we remain unchanged at the most essential levels of ourselves. Becoming a Renaissance man, while a pleasing concept, is outdated and unattainable in the modern day when undertaking to excel in all disciplines requires parting ways with the most basic aspect of humanity: the notion of choice. Instead, we ought to pick and choose our battles — those we will avoid, and those we will thoroughly allow to crush us.