Expression 101

‘Scribble Day’ tops the list of the many customs that come your way as you near the end of senior year and poise to graduate. Broken down, it’s basically school shirts, bright inked pens, and emotionally charged teenagers. The result is many an ‘XOXXO’s and ‘keep in touch’s scrawled on clothes you’ll never wear again, but treasure for different reasons. However, as cynical as this may sound, I estimate at least eighty-percent of these are superficial. It’s just kids, albeit momentarily weepy, going through the motions. But the twenty percent that are not, are golden.

So I sat down at the end of this emotionally exhaustive day to scour said shirt for the genuine. There was one that stood out in bright turquoise. It was from a girl I barely knew. It read, and I paraphrase:

“Thank you for being so nice and polite. Everyone thinks it’s cool to be mean and flippant. Around you, I can be myself because I know I won’t be judged.”

While I was touched, her message also made me a little sad. And it got me thinking. I thought about all those times I had been called ‘a people pleaser’ and ‘over apologetic’; all those times I had been laughed at for wanting to return a trivial amount I had been lent and told off for having a moral high ground, when all I was really doing was minding my p’s and q’s.

What kind of society are we heading towards? What justifies a culture where profanity becomes hip and commonplace and the polite are admonished for ‘obsolete pretension’? Snark is well on its way to becoming the new cool. We’ll soon be running out of expletives for when we’re actually pissed. Withered sarcasm is no longer a result of a bad day. It’s a semi-permanent mask, designed to keep real emotions at bay. Because emotion is synonymous with vulnerability, and vulnerability is often confused with weakness.

I have always found expression therapeutic, especially appreciation. I make it a point to say ‘thank you’ or words to that effect to the valet parking the car, or the doorkeeper, or the man serving you at the buffet. You can tell by the surprise on their face that, that’s not something they get a lot. So, you’ll make their day, it’ll warm your heart, and (in the case of the last one) they’ll heap your plate higher.

And if this applies to strangers, why should you pass over the people you care about. If I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, ‘he knows I love him’ or ‘she knows I appreciate that’ or ‘he should understand what I mean, we’re friends’, I’d have about a hundred useless nickels. Genuine communication is severely and dangerously under-rated. It doesn’t hurt to appreciate even the obvious. And for the record, nothing is obvious. Everything deserves to be said. (200 character texts don’t count, however embellished with emoticons).

Here’s what I do: I write letters; I send notes; I reply to even the insignificant emails; I acknowledge good points from the opposition in a debate; I tell people they have beautiful minds. I also tell them they’re douchebags, but only to those worthy of the title. But most of all, I mean the things I say. But I can tell that I’m in minority, because this is scarcely reciprocated.

But here’s where the crux of the issue lies. You do it anyway. You do it because it is human to feel and it is human to want to express, both appreciation and criticism. We are naturally programmed truth-tellers, socialized in a culture that hides from its own emotions, that thinks that nonchalance is the ideal. It’s a difficult process, but I firmly believe that we can unlearn. We can scrub ourselves clean. We can stop homogenizing behavior.

We can facilitate the triumph of passion and warm hugs over emoticons.

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