A Degree of Emotion


by Alex Shapanka

'A college degree – a symbol of higher education. From an early age we’re taught that going through secondary school and university will prepare us for the “real world.” Whoever said that was a liar, sharing only half-truths. Sure, we train our minds for intellectual pursuits, making them dexterous enough to achieve in the workforce. But our higher education is pretty unilateral, and the last time I checked the world was not so singular. There is more to life than running regressions and cranking out twenty page research papers. No, I’m not referring to going to Shooters or Devines. I mean emotion.

Before you get defensive and feel misjudged…actually no do. Please. I want you to feel as though I’m completely wrong. Be indignant. Tell me that you experience sadness, apathy, fear, shame, pride, and joy. My point is that we NEVER talk about our emotions. We feel, but it’s somehow taboo to acknowledge that we’re not hunky-dory. Imagine the last time you saw a friend on the plaza in passing and asked, “How are you?” Did you actually care? Were you really prepared for an answer other than “good” or “fine”? Probably not. We are reluctant to share our feelings.

Exhibit A: that dying sub-genre of alternative rock socially described as Emo (see video). After we get over the short-lived nostalgia for our early pubescent angst, we generally pooh-pooh on the music, even though it’s done nothing deserving of our contempt. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the public display of emotion in Emo(tional) music. At Duke expressing anything other than confidence or stress seems to be a social don’t.

How can we be successful doctors, lawyers or financiers, if we feel? Emotions are too distracting and show weakness, right?

On the contrary, we want…no need to share our feelings. The Center for Race Relations offers a weekend retreat every semester to discuss socioeconomic, race and gender issues. While the subjects are important to discuss, what makes the program so success is the raw emotion people communicate. If you haven’t gone, you still see it. When participants come back they are “Common Ground people” because they’re hyper aware of the problems and seem emotionally charged. That’s because they felt during the retreat. The sad part of it is that people talk about their struggles during CG but have never once mentioned them to their closest friends on campus.

That may seem odd, but it makes perfect sense. We live in a culture on campus (and in America) that isn’t safe to share our feelings. It’s not acceptable to be Emo.

I had a close friend (a Dukie) recently tell me she’s upset about something, but refused to clarify, though she assured me it wasn’t anything too serious. Talking about it out loud would “make it real.”

Why do we fear being emotional? We all feel. Sorry to burst your bubble, but none of us, including those going to the top IB firms, are immune to a case of the blues. Accept the volatile emotions and next time someone asks you, “How are you?” actually tell them how you’re feeling. Let’s try to learn more from college than our T-reqs. Strive for a degree of emotion.