Monday, July 22, 2013

How to be Cool

These posts about how right behavior yields favorable consequences, both personal and societal, and how faulty behavior results in personal problems and societal crises will never be considered cool.  Living responsibly, with discipline and perspective, using critical thinking to dissect issues and understanding the economic cycle may lead to a calmer, safer and happier life, but it will never raise an eyebrow, impress the neighbors or develop a following of adoring fans.

Being cool is so important in America today that people will go to great lengths to achieve that status.  An important lesson learned early in school is that cool kids get ahead.  They are recognized and celebrated by their peers, and even the administration – when’s the last time they held a pep rally for the math team?  Teachers are more appreciated and successful if they act cool, exchanging knuckle bumps with middle schoolers and having hip classroom decorations.  (See my comments from September 2012.)  Politicians try to act cool.  They want to be seen in public with film stars, rockers, rappers and professional athletes.  We take our cues from others about the right place to be, right things to wear and right things to say.

The good news is you can buy stuff to make you cool, and these opportunities continue to expand.  Kanye West will sell you a “designer” white t-shirt for a mere $120.  It’s part of his new clothing line that includes jeans for $265 and a long-sleeved hoodie for $280.  This article (from the UK) mockingly presents five much less expensive alternatives.  Although they are all priced at less than £10 (or about $16), they just can’t compete on coolness, and the West-endorsed t-shirts sold out in one day!

Why would so many people spend $120 for a t-shirt that is identical to others selling for much less?  Why are they so desperate to be considered cool?  Cheryl Mendelson in her book The Good Life explains, “…what seems cool to cool people varies with whatever relieves feelings of inferiority and humiliation...” (p.171).  In other words, beneath the facade they don’t feel good about themselves and must rely on the constant ability to surprise, shock or just out-cool others through their dress and attitude to gain the external reinforcement they need.  Perhaps the sale of Kanye West t-shirts and other goods tells us more than about how people make crazy spending decisions.  Perhaps it also means that recent attempts to artificially build self-esteem in our children have failed, leaving them, now young adults, to rely on outside approval to compensate for the undeveloped confidence and satisfaction that comes from real accomplishment.  If I need people to like or look up to me, I buy the shirt.

Perspective, a sense of moderation, an appreciation of what you have – materially, internally, and spiritually – relieves this need to spend money to achieve status or to impress the neighbors (and yourself).  The only drawback is that perspective, along with discipline, critical thinking and responsibililty are just not cool!

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