Generally, I prefer to talk about what to do, as opposed to what not to do. That said, I feel a rant coming on, so here we go.
Before we start, I want you to go ahead and look up what a douchebag really is. Got it? Great. That should convey the full import of how bad these following behaviors are, since engaging in them puts you in imminent danger of becoming an insta-douche:
1. Be a mindlessly competitive automaton.
You worked pretty hard to get into Harvard (or wherever else you are). We get it. And now you’ve got your sights set on that grad school or hot job. Good on you. Now chill out already. There’s no shortage of jobs or grad school spots for Harvard people — really. If you do even reasonably well, the world will be seeking you out.
In fact, there’s not a shortage of anything. You live in a world of abundance. So be the one who helps out with problem sets, shares notes and resources, tells people about the class with the cool prof and the easy A. The competitiveness tends to manifest especially in extracurriculars and the social sphere where you have to comp everything, which explicitly means ‘beating other people out’. But, unlike poker, college is not a zero-sum game. If you do your best, you win. And no one has to lose. As Gandhi said, “Full effort is full victory.”
If you didn’t get picked for the Seneca, the Lampoon, Let’s Go or the Dins, big deal. It may even be the best thing that happened to you. And if you’re going to compete against anyone, let it be your former self. If you’re in a better spot than you were as a 14yr old, hallelujah. And if you’re growing, learning and loving, you win, and no one can take that away from you.
2. Pull rank or engage in gratuitous one-upmanship.
There are two reasons why pulling rank and one-upmanship are a formula for insta-douche status at Harvard. First, nothing broadcasts your sense of woeful inadequacy than bragging about yourself (or your family, or school, or whatever). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never had to tell anyone he was tall — he just was. And the only people who care about your family’s wealth and status will be other insecure folks like yourself. The truly cool folks have already walked away.
Second, there’s bound to be someone in the room who has you beat by a large margin in that very selfsame area in which you think you’re hot shit. It’s like saying, “Well, I’m 6’7″, and in walks Shaquille O’Neal, ready to smack down your puny dwarfness. Whether it’s money, influence or fame, someone sitting right next to you is likely to have you bested. Scions of royalty, European banking houses, billionaires, celebrities, rock stars, actors, Nobel Prize winners — they’re all there (I know ’cause I met ‘em). So much safer not to bring up any of that stuff at all.
3. Play dumb.
Harvard people playing dumb is like beauty pageant winners saying they’re ugly. It’s implausible, unattractive and just plain weird. This country has plenty enough anti-intellectualism going around — it does not need your help. You’re supposed to grow up to become the beacon of light that enlightens the world around you, so why not start now? No one benefits from your hiding your light under a bushel. Your classmates are interested in your talents because it inspires them to greatness, so don’t you dare deprive them of that light. Shine, baby, shine.
4. Tell everyone how smart you are.
I just told you not to play dumb. And now, perversely, I’m enjoining you from doing the opposite, too. Well, that’s because Eastern wisdom, especially Taoist thought, is all about the Middle Path: to avoid the extremes and have balance.
Pretty much everyone at Harvard is smart, and you all start with a clean slate the first day of freshman year. What you did before that day no longer matters. But if you must bring up the fact that you aced 10 AP exams… well, bravo. And oh, by the way, there’s a girl standing there who aced twenty-three (it’s true — I know her). And another one who won Westinghouse. And a dude who’s already got an elementary particle named after him. And the guy who got a gold medal at the International Math Olympiad — twice. And the guy who’s already published his novel to wide acclaim. Welcome to Harvard, buddy. Now don’t worry about it, because in the real world, what you did in high school doesn’t matter. So put your head down and get to work.
5. Be a drunken wastoid.
Drunk people tend to be annoying to less drunk people. Ergo, if you are more drunk than most people most of the time, you will be annoying to most people most of the time. The world has given you the gift of the most amazing machine in the universe — namely, your brain. Surely you can come up with a better pastime than pickling it in Smirnoff.
6. Write like an illiterate person or a household pet.
Perhaps this is more of a personal peeve than a universally applicable principle of wisdom. But it’s my blog, it’s my rant, and I’m gonna say it anyway. The occasional ironic “Word up, dawg” — fine. But when you write on your Facebook wall “Gettin’ mah drank on wit da HOMIEZ”, unless you are an actual, shotgun-toting member of the Bloods or Crips, you look kinda silly (and an actual Crip may decide to beat you up, fo’ shitz and gigglez).
If you’re gonna write something to look cool, why not imitate Oscar Wilde, John Keats or Christopher Hitchens instead of Snoop or LOLcats? Y’know, like actual wit and stuff. For godssakes use that oversize brain to save the world instead of running a very expensive I’m-a-dumbass simulation.
Here ends this rant. More later.