Gates: Tone down complaining culture


Matt Gates, Columnist

Think about your last meal in the dining hall. What did you talk about? Was it about a Princeton student’s column attacking the concept of white privilege? What it about the NBA’s decision to fine and ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling? Was it about last Sunday night’s episode of “Game of Thrones?” Or was it about school? If it was about school, was it an upsetting, angry, emotionally exhausting, overly stressed-out or otherwise negative conversation? Finally, do you have these conversations all the time? If you answered yes to all of the previous three questions, you are openly stressed and agitated about your academic life. And you are not alone.

If we had to pick an activity to label as “Northwestern’s pastime,” we would think of cheering on the Wildcats, attending theatre and a cappella shows, going to Greek events and cramming in the library. I would add complaining about how much time we spend cramming in the library when we would rather be doing one of the first three on the list. Everyone needs to vent on occasion. We are all guilty of it. But occasional venting can turn into a vicious addiction.

We sometimes say we spend too much time working and should cut back. Perhaps this is true in some cases. But I believe there is also a problem not in the amount of time we put into school, but in how we talk about our studies. Much of the academic stress at NU is needless. It results from the culture of unnecessary and excessive complaining about our stress rather than from our workload and concern about our future in and of themselves.

The most obvious problem with our excessive complaining is that it is counterproductive. We complain about how much work we have at 11 p.m. and how we’re going to be up until 3 a.m. again instead of doing it and going to bed at a reasonable time. Rather than blowing time complaining about how little time we have, why don’t we free up time by being productive?

We might argue that complaining releases stress. This is true to an extent. However, the excessive complaining that many of us are guilty of just increases our stress levels, creating a vicious cycle. We might feel better the first three times we talk about how long the econ midterm was and how we wish we could have gotten the bonus for turning it in on time. After that we are just crying over lost points. We might feel better when we complain to our friends about how hard that chem midterm was and find out that they thought it was hard too. But if they say they thought it was easy, we are left thinking about being “on the positively sloped side of the curve” as I like to put it.

Moreover, when we complain about how much work we have, we wind up agitating each other and worsening the mental health of everyone at our dining hall table. Hearing how hard the next class in the bio sequence will not help us better understand transcription. It might even scare some of us out of taking a class that is made out to be harder than it actually is. I remember my peer adviser telling us during Wildcat Welcome that we regularly were going to be told how hard the classes here are and that some people would tell us we aren’t going to be able to handle them. She told us that the first part was true, but the second wasn’t. “You all got in here.” And our applications did not just consist of voice recordings comparing who can complain the loudest. (But if they did, I would have gotten a full merit scholarship.) We don’t know what we should and shouldn’t major in until we try things out. But that’s what drop deadlines are for.

Complaining about how difficult and time-consumingour classes and other obligations are is tempting. To an extent, complaining is understandable and relieves stress. However, a culture of incessant outward academic stress is ultimately detrimental to our success. Our workload and our desire to succeed will hopefully bring us the rewards we are looking for after we graduate. Our excessive complaints have little to offer us now or in the future. When we feel overwhelmed and look for something to cut out of the mixture, we should start with our culture of public stress.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a letter to the editor to [email protected].