[This Commentary originally appeared in the August 30, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Certain environments intimidate me quite easily. I attribute my dread to breeding (and possibly genetics). From the point we first become socially aware until we are finally released from the protective custody of family, we absorb mere echoes from the outside world. Yet until we embark into society alone do we genuinely rethink the axioms of our naïve view of the universe.
Growing up infuses a sense of culture in each of us. Not only do we place ourselves within that colloquial space our immediate family and friends inhabit, but through the conservations of others and what little we can understand from the mass media, we rank our own group’s status among the many diverse classes civilization offers. Consequently, the experiences of our young age sow the seeds of future intimidation.
Perhaps the most elite genre of humans can be found in the history books. Almost immediately we respect history markers, often elevating them to unreachable pedestals. We simply cannot imagine the arrogance required to ever assume we can join the club of revered, centuries dead, individuals. After all, not even the best public relations firm can guarantee a paragraph in The Encyclopedia Britannica.
For some of us, the dread includes living people as well. We have been brought up to believe in the theory of upward mobility, but the legacy of our ancestors impedes any notion we might have concerning the reality of that theory. Call it an innate sense of understanding – the understanding that there exist people who have had benefits we have not had and the understanding that one can only build upon the foundation which birth has supplied.
Perhaps the lack of confidence with which we speak comes directly from the European serfs we call our forebears. Without doubt, the attitude may well be responsible for the unfortunate lack of vitality displayed by Europe’s peasant caste. With the burden of history, indeed, western civilization, we can quickly see how the affliction of intimidation can be called genetic.
If we have never experienced even modest success, we can easily believe no manner of success can or will ever visit us. We forget the sage advice given to use as five years olds: you’ll never learn how to ride a bike if you don’t try. Then, we confronted and overcame our fear. Now, we laugh with disbelief at the notion we once thought learning to ride a bike represented an impossible feat.
The above lesson of confidence becomes harder to apply to greater changes in our life. When faced with seemingly insurmountable barriers or unknown terrain, we often view the option of turning back as the more favorable (i.e., comfortable) alternative. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t.
Given the above preamble, the personal fears which accompanied me upon my arrival to New Haven twelve years ago seem to have been a natural extension of my upbringing. To me, college, (in particular, the one I was fortunate enough to attend), represented that segment of mankind one generally only experiences through history books. I most certainly knew of no one who studied at an Ivy League University. In fact, I knew precious few people with a four-year degree (or the ambition to obtain one).
Like any other college freshman, if not more so, I tentatively stepped out of my father’s car onto the sidewalk next to the Old Campus, the rather expansive dormitory used exclusively by freshman. I knew that step marked a very important point in my life. I knew the step signaled my leaving the sheltering cocoon of my parents. Just because I knew I had to take the step didn’t mean I felt comfortable doing it.
Author’s Note: My mother, ever the revisionist historian, tells a totally different story. She says I opened the car door even before the vehicle came to a complete halt. She further claims I leapt out with both feet, rolled in the grass, then ran off to find my room and roommates, leaving my father alone to do all the unloading. Personally, I think she made it all up to make me feel better about the entire experience.
Of course, as every college freshman finds out soon enough – you’re not the only college freshman around. Everybody else in your class has the same fears, the same worries and the same tentativeness. It might take a few days or a few weeks to find this out, but you will discover this.
Once you get over this hurdle, the rest is gravy. Sure, there might be killer home work assignments, terribly bad test scores and embarrassingly large football defeats, but at least you know you now have a new family of friends to rely on. And because you will share four years of common experience, these people will become your closest friends. You will instill within one another a sense of belonging.
Editor’s Note: The Carosa Commentary represents the musings of its author, and in no way reflects the opinions of this newspaper, its management, or those of us not descended from “European serfs.”
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]