May 17, 2013

When trust falls

Respond to the shock of “Politically Incorrect” culture by extending your trust once more.

The stairs in Pierce Tower are extraordinarily terrifying. I have no time for its crawling deathtrap elevators, so I spend a lot of time in its narrow, unadorned stairwells. As a clumsy fellow, I occasionally clip my toes on the odd stair when climbing, only to hiccup slightly and continue my ascent with a disappointed and bemused headshake. Each time that happens, I instinctively raise my hand to my mouth. Sometimes, when I walk down the five flights that separate my floor from the breezeway, I do that the whole way, my face’s pulsating wince concealed the entire time by tensed digits.

I raise my hand to my mouth because I have an irrepressible recurring fear that I’ll trip and fall—especially when I’m descending—and thereby completely obliterate my face on the cement (or whatever), turning my jaw and its partners-in-chew into something that resembles the exploded remnants of a particularly chunky black pudding. These stairs, you see, are rock solid; they’re steep, too. And they somehow look slick; their sheen unsettles me. Stairs are often wooden, or creaky, or carpeted, or at least gently inclined. Or maybe they have quaint spaces between their steps. My point is that all flights are sympathetic, somehow. Not these, though: All the steps in Pierce’s stairwells could doubtlessly wreck me if I fell on them—and they would feel nothing.

However nerve-wracking my fear, it is reliably short-lived, and often does not survive past the second floor. For I am its master: I need to take the stairs often in Pierce; and over these past two years I’ve gotten awfully good at gliding safely down them in a hurry. My technique—AJayWalkingTM—is a sensation. And it’s backed up by around 19 years of amateur experience standing upright on two legs. So I’ve learned to trust myself not to fall—but that trust has been reinforced by literally thousands of carefully coordinated and incident-free (and patent-pending) steps.

Of course, it would take but one careless misstep to shatter my grill, and possibly my kneecaps and lungs (I’ve imagined this a lot). But I feel as though the aforementioned trust would survive, even if it took a slight knock. It’s ironclad. After my likely grave, elevator-confining injuries healed, I’d return to the offending stairs with a level of gusto that accorded with both my ever-so-slightly reduced confidence and, of course, social propriety. People generally don’t mind as long as my gusto doesn’t slip into zeal territory.

Zest aside, trust can be powerful and lasting when it’s forged, and reinforced positively, over time. But how often do we encounter such rugged trust? Not often: Brittleness and fragility come to mind when I think of a concept so outwardly ethereal. Largely, trust is shattered and restored. Any old brutish stroke can break a Ming vase into a million pieces, but it takes a rare, expert touch to bring out and revive its beauty.

Too often, trust is left needing to be restored. If you no longer seek it out, Politically Incorrect Maroon Confessions seems to have gone; but it remains, a (relatively) ghostly vestige of a time on the electronic extension of our campus that saw the trust of students like me completely ripped to pieces. My sense of trust in regard to things like racialism and sexism and other hatreds—and I think ours, more generally—is one that I keep sequestered. At this university, where free inquiry or something reigns supreme, I find that when I choose to leave my trust hanging around unguarded, someone will usually come along and slam it with the door to open discourse.

I’m less trusting of people than I am of stairs. I honestly acknowledge that this is the right way to be, as a rule, but I still find myself wondering how my outlook on this place I plan to be for another two years would be different if I’d left my precious, delicate burden of trust optimistically exposed, in search of positive reinforcement. So many of the people I know here are sensitive and thoughtful and possessive of ears and mouths that function as they should. Only some are awful; the only problem seems to be that I don’t always see these people coming. And, with respect to the health of my own senses of dignity and trust in others, my previous approach to broaching the topics so grievously manhandled both by Politically Incorrect Maroon Confessions and by some people I’d rather not speak to again has been an explosive failure, as evidenced by the fact that I no longer broach them. Granted, this is just my own, very personal experience; but, based on it, I’m going to hope not exactly that the good outweighs the bad, but that openly embracing the good will widely expose the bad as something pathological.

If, like me, you feel dissatisfied with your place on our “diverse” campus, and if you’re so inclined, you should consider letting your trust breathe fresh air. Personally, I’ve decided that I’d rather do that than conceal it more deeply—plus, if this is a bad idea, I’ll probably be almost out of here by the time I realize it.

Plainly, I’m asking you to defy conventional wisdom: Like a delicate ice sculpture, if you leave trust exposed for too long, you’re just asking for it to slowly dissipate from exposure to the simplest earthly vicissitudes, or to be shattered by cataclysm. But please believe me when I say you’re not asking that for your trust—for your frail treasure. You’re asking, reasonably and with the most wonderfully admirable grace, for there to be someone who appreciates it.

Ajay Batra is a second-year in the College majoring in English.