I once took a completely lifealtering class on Buddhist philosophy that left my mind both exhausted and invigorated. Many of the concepts we covered in class went far beyond my scope of comprehension, but we had a particular discussion that lately, as my time at Wooster dwindles, I find myself coming back to frequently.
My professor asked the class what we would do if we woke up tomorrow and everyone that we knew and loved were strangers. Would we spend our last nights of being in relationships with one another remising all our shared moments, or would we go to sleep safely knowing that when we woke up we would be able to form those strong bonds over and over again, making new memories just as valuable as the ones that had been erased?
Ultimately, as a class, we said friends becoming strangers would allow interactions with them to be genuine and true, always seeing people for who they are in the present as opposed to being tainted by past memories that may not define who they are now.
I do think relationships are truly beautiful and I value the security I have here immensely, but it is important to acknowledge when these connections settle into routines of comfort rather than of true recognition. We hold the hand of the person that we love with the confidence that they will not stab us in the back with their other hand because they have never done that before. We are steeped in a belief that the familiar faces will operate how they always have and always will. This is static and I think genuine connection needs to be dynamic by wiping the slate clean and seeing people for how they interact in the here and now. Waking up tomorrow and having no memory of the people who you are in a relationship with allows space to acknowledge that connection to be found in a myriad of newness and surprise.
As a senior, I will be the first to admit that I operate on a daily basis with assumptions that have been formed through past interactions. While it is nice knowing familiar faces, that sometimes means the othering of everyone else. The most daunting aspect of this is perhaps that there are individuals that I have not interacted with at all that I hold assumptions about based on their membership to groups that have been labeled in potentially negative ways. When I do this I stifle any possibility of true connection with both those I am comfortable with and those I am not.
Though this concept of the stranger is glamorous, it cannot be put in place without further analyzing biases that have been applied to individuals and groups. This lack of acknowledgement can be defined by Michael Kimmel, a sociologist who gave a lecture at Middlebury where he stated, “Privilege is invisible to those who have it,” meaning that people who are privileged are able to operate in society without the awareness that others do not experience their same treatment. So while it might be nice to follow along with what my class said about seeing everyone on the level playing field of the stranger because it is an elimination of preconceived notions, it cannot be done without acknowledging privilege.
The differences that set us apart from one another have been deeply rooted in past interactions and those interactions cannot just be eradicated. They must be surfaced and assessed in order to allow for new sincere connections to form without them. Therefore, we should not be blind to multiple dimensions of identity but rather acclaim them. Seeing diversity of people and experiences also means acknowledging how privilege is perpetuated.
By applying these conceptions to our community, we need to interact in our microcosm through recognizing each other without biases and creating space of spontaneous memories with people we once labeled as strangers. Connection is done through being, and allowing others to be, by expanding your boundaries of comfort and letting in the those you have othered.
I recall watching my sister graduate from Wooster in 2016, where she sat with a student she had never spoken to in all her four years. They had run in different circles and the two of them were virtual opposites. In the very last moments she had here, the two of them bonded; I looked over at her during the ceremony and saw their laughter and comradely progress like they had been old pals all along.
It is important to establish that our hours on this campus are infinite with the possibility of new and surprising interactions, and I am asking that we allow space for that.
Bekah Smith, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at RSmith19@wooster.edu.