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ISSUE 120 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 11/3/2006

Community requires empathy

By Andrea Horbinski
Staff Writer

Friday, November 3, 2006

I've been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Those of you who know me may find this hard to believe, but it's true. It seems I'm not the only one with kindness on the brain, either; a recent executive editorial implored us all to stop grimacing, be kind and not slam our P.O. box doors, while President Anderson implored us to put away bitterness in his inaugural Chapel talk.

He also implored us to speak truth, and here's a little bit of it: being part of a community is not an individual affair. For example, the other night I was enjoying a biography of Wordsworth I'd checked out from the library when I turned a page and saw that some previous reader had decided to write all over it, and the next 20 pages or so as well.

There's a word for what's written in the margins: marginalia. I once suggested that as a name of a column in this paper, only to be voted down because "it sounds like genitalia." Some people are well-known for writing fantastic, enriching marginalia; friends of Samuel Taylor Coleridge contrived to lend him their books just to read what he'd written in them after they were returned.

But here's some more truth: you are not Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and you should not be writing in a book that doesn't belong to you.

Leaving the library books lie for a moment, let's consider now a subject dear to every Ole heart: laundry. Yesterday, since I needed to do two loads and be on time for the weekly Mess meeting, I kept a careful eye on the clock while my first load ran through a washer cycle. When I got down there a minute before my clothes finished, someone else’s dryer cycle had just finished. I removed those sheets from the dryer and placed them on top.

Fifteen minutes later, as I was sorting my clothes into line- and tumble-dry piles a girl entered the laundry room and said, "Hi." I said "Hi" back, but my suspicions were confirmed when she explained that her sheets hadn't finished drying completely. Though she never said as much, it was clear she wanted me to remove all my sopping wet clothes from the dryer and give it back to her.

What would Jesus have done? Driven a demon into a herd of pigs, probably, but I was fresh out of demons. I thought about moving my laundry, I really did. But the prospect of lugging two loads of clothes, one wet, up and then down two flights of stairs (I live in Rand) seemed completely unappealing when it was my understanding that the laundry room is on a strictly first come, first serve basis. So in my best passive-aggressive Norwegian fashion I muttered something inaudible and refused to make eye contact.

Eventually she muttered something about line drying and went away, leaving me resentful that she'd asked at all and that she'd made me feel like a bad person for not letting myself get walked on. When I came back to put my second load of clothes in the dryer I realized I'd been so busy resenting that I'd forgotten to add detergent, and had to wash them all again.

As I walked up the stairs from the laundry yet again it occurred to me that there were several lessons here. The first: I'd waited too long to do laundry; the second: never use stairwell two in Rand. The third: the universe has a great sense of humor. Fourth and finally: that girl and I clearly lacked the same conception of the laundry room. If she were from New Jersey like me, would she understand that the laundry is a world of cutthroat competition (I have a shirt emblazoned with the Garden State that says "only the strong survive"), not a concierge service? If I had her frame of reference, would I understand why she thought the laundry was pre-reserved for her just because her clothes hadn't fully dried?

The point here, and with the library books, isn't about being nice to each other, but about putting yourself in another person's shoes. Being nice, at least superficially, is fairly easy, but considering how things seem from someone else's point of view is difficult and much more rewarding. Before you write in that library book, ask yourself if the person coming after you will really appreciate your notes, or if like me, they'll curse a little, resent you, and reach for an eraser. Before you assume other people should defer to you, think how you'll appear to them. Then, put away bitterness. And your laundry too.

Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a senior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics with concentrations in Japan studies and in linguistics.

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