Sep 212010
Authors: Jonathan Kastner

People are mainly concerned with doing two things: appearing cool and having sex. Since sex is something that everyone except you is having regularly, I don’t need to cover that here. Being cool, on the other hand, is an art that takes a lifetime to master.

To be cool, one must appear unconcerned and uncaring yet at the same time rage against the many injustices that occur in life.
For example, it is not considered polite or cool to overtly display enthusiasm for anything, as this would leave you prone to the criticisms of those who think it actually “sucks.”

But if your cell phone ceases to provide coverage, even for a second, swear death upon a customer service representative, proclaim the end of your social life as you know it and vow vengeance upon the gods that wronged you.

This can be a difficult attitude to maintain. To better prepare yourself, let’s get some perspective on things. Many people are naturally good at this, but anyone can get better at having a perspective more able to construct mountains of cool out of molehills of normalcy.

For example, just by being able to read this, you’re already luckier than about 15 percent of the world. Global illiteracy, although lower than ever, still means that being literate is something that could easily be taken for granted.

To more easily take reading for granted, keep this simple fact in mind: If you were illiterate, you wouldn’t have to do that stupid assignment that’s due next week. And that assignment is totally cutting into your plans. But whatever.

So far, coolness intact. Let’s take a look at a harder one: drinking water. Did you know that more than a billion people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water? Now that you know, do you care?

Of course not. And why should you? Water is lame and ordinary. You should almost certainly not be astonished by the fact that, if you are reading this, it is likely that there is a source of clean drinking water within less than one hundred feet of where you sit. Instead, focus on something much more relatable, like the fact that if Coke prices continue to rise you will literally die. Or switch to Pepsi.

It’s pretty easy to live moment to moment without being burdened by worry over what poor people are doing elsewhere. This will allow you to focus on the real injustices in the world, be more relatable and not one of those weirdoes who’s always talking about Africa or something.

If the notion of clean water is somehow still not boring to you, try distancing yourself even further from the problem. Sure, there are poor people alive now, but don’t you dare consider how you’ve won the cosmic lottery by being alive during the time you are alive as well.

Conditions before the last hundred years were not pretty. Death by disease, malnutrition and violence were about as common as the far more infuriating problem of slow lines today. It’s easy to distance yourself from these problems because they happened before you were born and exist only in history books.

If you started to consider the endless march of humanity, stretching back thousands of years, and the actual real people who suffered and toiled and died, it might make the insufferable interruption of “House” for a tornado warning someplace you don’t even live seem somehow less worth the ulcer.

Maintaining your cool in the face of far more “serious” problems may seem like a lot of work, but it can be something you take a stance on. After all, there’s nothing as cool as the ability to dismiss a mountain of someone’s actual problems as a means to make a molehill of your own personal cool.

Johnathan Kastner is in his second year of his second bachelor degree, majoring in computer science. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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