There are moments in every New Yorker’s life—whether you’ve been living here a year or a week—that make you realize you’ve truly become a New Yorker. For me, one occurred recently when I saw a man shooting up heroin in front of my building. As I walked past him, my only thought was, “Hey, at least he didn’t ask me for any money.” But sometime long before that occurrence, there was the day I realized I’d gone from being bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and super-excited about the city to bemoaning its every minor annoyance. You might say I had become a “jaded New Yorker.” I think I simply learned to complain.
I’m not saying New Yorkers invented the art of complaining, but let’s face it: We have somewhat of a reputation for it. And like most things, we do it better than anyone else. But have we taken this “art” too far? Some people would say so. But they’re probably just other New Yorkers complaining about people complaining too much. Either way, someone will likely just tell you to “shut your trap and move on.”
Not me. I’d like to tell you to complain on! I don’t think people complain enough. At least not in the right way. Studies have shown that “venting” to your peers can actually make you feel worse. While you may feel that you’re letting out the negativity, your brain just dwells on reasons to be upset, and your friends are usually of little help in the matter because they can’t often change your situation. So while it seems like whining about the amount of reading you have for Lit Hum is a good idea, it’s probably not. Don’t like the way your professors voice sounds? No one cares. Feel like a test was wildly unfair? Shut your—hey wait! That one might actually be worth saying something about.
I’ve taken a number of classes where the majority of students have agreed that something was off. Not just that the readings were boring, or whatever, but that something was legitimately wrong with the way things were run. Take one class, for instance, where the midterm—which came from the department, not our teacher—covered everything we were supposed to have studied and incidentally, not much that we had actually studied. What did we do? We complained. To each other. Our moms. Anyone who would listen. Anyone and everyone except someone who might have cared or been able to improve the situation. We complained until we were downright upset about it, and then we just stopped. Why? I don’t know exactly. Maybe we just forgot about it, or maybe we realized complaining wasn’t going to “fix” our midterm grade. What we didn’t really take into account is that we could have possibly made things better for our final exam, or for others taking the class after us. We could have written a (politely-worded, of course) letter to our teacher or someone in the department. Instead, most of us just waited until we saw our final grades to complain again, and again, only to each other.
I hear complaint after complaint about being in school at Columbia. I think most of it is just so we can feel sorry for ourselves and hope other people feel sorry for us as well. Columbia is the third higher-learning institution I’ve attended, and while the other schools were great, Columbia blows them way out of the water. It’s an absolutely amazing university, and I think too many of its students forget just how lucky we are to be here—that we had other choices. That being said, it’s not like everything here is perfect and there’s nothing to complain about. But if it’s worth complaining over, it’s worth complaining to the right people. Tell your dean of students or your professor or your department head or anyone who might have the ability to change things (and get paid, in part, to listen to you). Write for Spectator and point out all the things you feel need to be corrected. Complain, and complain often! Just not to me.
Suck up the small things and speak up about the big things. Make your complaining do something other than just make you depressed and annoy the people around you. Be an agent of change at this school and all around you. But if all you want to do is whine about where you are and everything around you, the New Yorker in me has a bit of friendly advice: Leave.
Jessica Lovelace-Chandler is a School of General Studies junior majoring in creative writing. Owls and Lions and Bears! Oh My! runs alternate Fridays.
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