What is the name of the always smiling cashier at the Buttery?
How about the nice guy who makes the best poutine at Sid Smith?
When was the last time you said HI to a familiar face from a past tutorial?
Or the last time you smiled at a stranger on St. George st?
Is it me or does our campus have a bad case of otherness? The mutually understood remoteness between two transit riders, the intentional forgetting of names and faces, the blockade between two early-birds before class…why do we try so hard to ignore each other on campus? I define the conscious act of knowingly “unknowing” another on campus as otherness. Why? Because by choosing to ignore the existence of another human being within your vicinity, you are consciously creating an environment of otherness—impersonal, desolate and unfamiliar; in this state, others are mere numbers or meaningless figures to the observer. No idea what I’m talking about? Think about all the times you intentionally ignored someone from your tutorials outside of class.
Just last week, I forced myself to walk by and ignore Mr. X from a seminar this year because I thought he wouldn’t remember or recognize me from class—as did he. However, Mr. X and I have participated in many dialogues in class this year and I remember always anticipating his insightful input. Then why was I so afraid to acknowledge his existence outside of class? It’s not that I had a debilitating crush on him (I didn’t); I was just scared to “break the ice” outside of class. We could’ve been great friends, but because of cowardice, on both sides, I guess we’ll never know.
I feel like as students, always consumed by our own anxieties, we have forgotten that we need human plurality to exist. We need others to validate our existence in this world because through mutual recognition of each other, feelings of solidarity and belonging are strengthened. Hey commuters, ever go a whole day without talking to anybody? Been there, done that – one of the worst feelings ever. We get so caught up in the constant go go go of university life that we forget to allow others to notice us – or notice them in return. You all know by now how hard first year was for me. I felt so disconnected from campus life because I would go days without speaking to anyone (other than the customary transactions with TTC fare collectors or supermarket vendors).
Trust me I know from experience that feeling invisible is not fun. So I don’t understand why so many of us choose to preserve the state of otherness through inaction. Why is it so bizarre for me to want to stay connected to people I met in first year? Its not like I magically forgot they existed. Why do other students perceive my smile as unnerving? Why can’t I just say “Hi, its Sarah! I remember you from TRN303, how are you?” If we constantly live in fear of rejection, then we will constantly deny ourselves many possibilities of beautiful friendships and connections.
I know that deep down inside, all of us want to be seen – to be recognized. We are students, predisposed to be constantly working for validation (be it through our GPA, through awards, through peers). The search for external validation is a chip on all of our shoulders. I want my professor to remember my name. I want to talk to the person sitting next to me in class – clearly, we have something in common. I want my peers in tutorials to acknowledge me outside of class. I want my friends from university to reach out to me even in the summer time. We want to not be invisible but we aren’t willing to put in the effort to dissolve the otherness in our worlds.
I promise you the world is not going to implode if someone you reach out to doesn’t remember you. So what, if they respond negatively to your random smile. Their loss. ON TO THE NEXT. Make a conscious effort to get to know the names, faces and personalities of those who inhabit your world. The cashiers, the colleagues, the acquaintances, the TAs, the profs – make them aware of your epic existence. Comment below if you have any tips on how we can break down the otherness on campus!
See and be seen. Its as simple as that.
PS. Stay tuned on a post on conversation starters before school starts. I’ve had my fair share of awkward small talk!
PSS. Tell me below whether you’re guilty of ignoring just as much as I am or whether you’ve been ignored.