The spring semester started two days ago. Approximately one week from now, a version of the nation’s saddest exercise in egotism will plague our campus. It sounds a little like this:
“Hey, how are you?” “You know. I’m already falling behind.” “Already?” “Yup. Got three papers, two club conferences, a presentation, and a group project. Anyways, how are you?” “Fine. Ouch, I feel you, though. This week’s not that bad for me, but next week, I think I have, let’s see, four papers, three club conferences…”
Conversations like that one are more fields of combat, sites of passive-aggressive warfare, than they are sources of true commiseration and companionship. Each side manages to reincarnate the lines of their resume’s entries as successive whimpers about their lack of leisure time, hoping their final tally of grievances stands supreme.
But, like all great pissing contests, the aims of this battle are nil, and the victory futile. What’s worse, this kind of “conversation” — this “groupwhine” — has become so pervasive on campus that we confuse it with true camaraderie, as if we were actually revealing deep insecurities to our friends when we tell them about our next MGMT 104 deadline. But we’re in college — even our closest friends do not truly care about how far below the medically optimal nightly dosage of sleep we’re getting. There is no real conversation when you can repeat your self-pitying monologue, completely unchanged, to a random acquaintance just as well as you would to your freshman roommate, wasting the time of each.
I don’t think everyone who engages in “groupwhine” does so narcissistically — some might actually think it’s a quick form of social stress relief, a release valve for our ambitions. There’s one problem: If your real motive is to unwind and let loose for a few seconds, “groupwhine” sucks.
First, it’s not as if you’re not thinking about your deadlines and obligations all the time anyway; we’re so hardwired to obsessive-compulsively check our email that GSR computers automatically open up Outlook for us. “Groupwhine” only makes us think more about our quotidian problems, except in ostensibly social settings where we have no power to make those problems better. Not only is “groupwhine” unproductive, it robs us of the opportunity to actually seem interesting to the person standing across from us.
Second, the problems we complain about are not real afflictions. Real unfairness in this world exists. Sometimes, a polar vortex rolls through our hometowns or the Walnut Street Chipotle runs out of guacamole. These are injustices where we have no power to change that which has gone terribly wrong.
Our schedules, with their course loads and volunteer opportunities and extracurriculars, are thankfully one of the things we control the most. Here’s when “groupwhine” becomes not only unproductive, but annoyingly dishonest. If we really didn’t want to make that presentation, we would have picked a class without group projects, like Penn Course Review told us to. If we really didn’t want to run that club meeting, we wouldn’t have furiously tried to beat the clock for the board application deadline.
“Groupwhine,” then, becomes a screechy version of a humblebrag, with each proud pout supposed to signal just how hard it is to care so much about all that we do, to the point that it undermines our very health and psychological state. How noble.
The most harmful effect of “groupwhine” is how it’s become not only prevalent, but socially expected. If someone asks us how we’re doing in a high-rise elevator, we might spend half the ride up wondering if chirping about how our life actually doesn’t suck right now would be somehow gauche, insensitive to other people’s lives being hard sometimes. That’s how otherwise cheerful, funny people can turn into overburdened, lifeless students in their daily interactions. Not a good look for anyone.
So, for the next time someone asks you what’s up, here’s a little guide: 1. Do not say “you know.” They do not know. 2. Smile. 3. Talk about the NFL playoffs or something, I don’t know. Go Patriots.
Akshat Shekhar is a Wharton sophomore from Boston, studying finance. His email address is email@example.com.