Observing Alex

Casually organized thoughts

a cool essay

March 16, 2019

This is an essay that I turned in for my AP Lang class, but thought I would post because it shares a lot with the other kinds of things I post on this blog. It is a bit more personal than I’m usally comfortable sharing publicly, however I think it is relatable enough where it could be helpful or interesting to some of you. As always, what’s written here isn’t necessarily my opinion on the matter, but a thought nonetheless.

Some people are just cool. You can recognize it almost immediately. It’s a vibe that’s easy to feel, but hard to define. Coolness exists in the ease of conversation, the way an individual makes you feel. Often, the people who we like we consider “cool.” And we can use this word because coolness is not an objective quality, rather a preferential essence. Of course “cool” can be interpreted in the stereotypical, John Hughes movie sense, but I would argue that the concept of the jock is only a manifestation of coolness out of the late 20th-century, American high school environment. After high school, those who “peaked” are viewed with a lower social status, as they are unable to adapt to the appropriate feeling of their new environment.

So what exactly is “coolness”? Urban Dictionary provides some interesting definitions that I believe provide some insight into how the term is interpreted: “being real,” “demonstrating self-respect, healthily boundaries, and the capacity to understand others,” “grace despite pressure,” “relaxed, calm, low-key, mellow,” “trustworthy,” “agreeable,” “characterized by strange masteries and hidden resources,” and simply “superior.”

When I think about these definitions, my mind picks up on a theme of comfort. “Grace under pressure” and “relaxed, calm, low-key, mellow” are both characteristics of an individual in a comfortable, stress-free state. Many of the other definitions expand this sense of comfort to others, societal comforts such as healthy boundaries, empathy, trustworthiness, agreeableness, transparency, and usefulness. And finally, there is “superior.” If this were meant in a conceded sense, it would be somewhat contradictory to the other terms, which makes me think about the idealism of comfort. Comfort is what we want. We won’t have it all the time, but that, for the most part, is always the goal. Just as people won’t be cool in every situation, all the time, the concept of coolness is something to strive for.

For some people, however, comfort seems to come more naturally. I remember my time in elementary school and think about how cool I thought the kids who were the best at soccer during recess were, and how I wished to be more like them. To uncoordinated little me, soccer was not fun because I was so embarrassed at how much worse I was than the other kids who dominated the field. And in that environment, the soccer field, what was cool was being able to play, comfortably.

Harmony is comfortable. War, uncomfortable. Competency, comfortable. Confusion, uncomfortable. But of course, it gets far more complicated because harmony is based on the environment. What’s comfortable in one context, just isn’t in another. Consider if you’re at a wedding, and someone strides in sporting board shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and flip-flops. Because a marriage ceremony is formal and supposed to focus on the couple, the surfer wouldn’t be considered cool because he’s disrupting the harmony of the event. Now say the groom comes out, notices the surfer, and then continues on like everything is normal. This action would be cool because it makes the others at the wedding feel comfortable, as they know that any possible tension over the break in harmony has been wiped away.

So is it wrong to be uncool? Well, maybe sometimes, to some degree. Humans are social creatures, and for the vast majority of us, our happiness is heavily influenced by the people we’re around. As I alluded to with the soccer antidote, I am not a particularly confident person. Whether it’s by personality or habit, I have a tendency to view others as being above me, unless I consider them to be immoral. I think it comes from my tendency to overthink things and an orientation towards perfectionism; my mistakes take a toll on me, and my vision is too clouded by my own insecurity to see that others make mistakes also.

As a result of this lack of confidence, I was far more accepting of people who I didn’t really like. I and those I surrounded myself with were so desperate for friendship that we ignored our underlying issues, for me, lack of confidence. And that was easy. As long as I could put up with the things they did that I found annoying, mean, unhealthy, and selfish, I had a group of people who needed me and would ignore my imperfection.

I would not describe that group of people as cool. They made me feel worse about myself, to the point where I decided to seek counsel to get an objective, outsider view of my situation. Through this process, I began to recognize the relevance of confidence. And eventually, I left my old “friends” behind in search of people who I actually loved.

With help and patience, I’ve made progress on my level of self-confidence and changed my group of friends. However, I have one issue with these people who I like much more: it’s more challenging to be around them. Before, my friends were so desperate, that they no one needed to speak up for themselves because everyone felt better if they were just included. Now, the people I surround myself with understand that they make others feel good, and expect the same of others. They hold others up to their own standard, which is one of harmony. There is enough self-respect to be clear what people like and don’t and what boundaries are. Being around them takes having the confidence to be my true self, and being okay if we’re just not compatible.

Now I am an individual, with particular traits and interests, and I don’t want to sacrifice myself for mass social conformity. Very few people would say they want this. But when you’re comfortable, well, we all want that, and some of comfort comes from harmony, and thus, conformity. But of course, forcing yourself to conform to habits or ideas that really don’t fit with breaks harmony.

In the film National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, when asked about throwing a party for the nerdiest fraternity on campus, Van Wilder assertively responds, “Lambdas are cool in their own right. People just needed to realize it.”

While it seems like coolness is something to aspire towards, it is essential to keep in mind that coolness is dependent on the environment. Fundamentally, coolness is the promotion of comfort, and for your own well-being, as well as those you’re around, coolness is a good trait.

Comfort is freeing. It allows you to reflect clearly and freely, and lead a better life. Being honest about your interests and values, and acknowledging when someone else is doing something that bothers you allows your social groups to maximize harmony as people who don’t share enthusiasm or values shift to other groups, and people’s non-intrinsic behavior that brings people down. Coolness allows for personal growth and discovery as no time is spent trying to impress those you are genuinely close with. As an example, I trust my closest friends to tell me if I am acting in a way they don’t like because overtime I found that we share similar values and interests, and by being seen as cool by them, I am in turn am getting another interpretation of myself, and am therefore am a more genuine and “real” person.