Society and sneezing

Thomas Humphrey | Staff Writer

We live in a society without written rules. Yes, we have laws, but no laws govern social interaction–that sphere lives in a state of complete anarchy. And yet, unlike the anarchy of international relations, there are no rational actors in social interaction. Here at Washington University, we are less like the individual atoms governed by the laws of physics than we are like the quantum particles governed by chance. Perhaps even quantum physics is less complex than operating as a social actor in modern college life. I feel as though I live in one of the worst adjusted generations of college students. Just think about how unnatural it all feels.

Take, for example, the complex ritual that goes into a sneeze. This natural bodily function conjures up in the mind a complex flowchart of questions. Where was the location? If it was in a class, then what kind of class? I find it permissible to acknowledge the sneeze in discussion sections more so than lectures, unless you are seated next to a person. But do I even want to acknowledge it? I do not mean to confer any actual blessing on this person. I cannot claim to have that sort of power. I could go for a classic “gesundheit,” but then I always feel like a dork. I suppose I could remain silent, but then I guess I am being rude. I know that, despite my hatred for the whole sneezing convention, I still feel offended if no one acknowledges my sneeze.

I mean, it’s tough out there. What about all those nice double layered doorways we have on our campus? They are great for keeping the cold out, very advanced. But they are also a source of social confusion. Say someone holds the first door for me. I thank them, and then a couple of seconds later they hold the next door too. Do I have to thank them again? That feels wrong, but whenever I am the door-holder, I get thanked twice. I guess I just never got the email on the door-holding standard here. I generally go for an initial “thank you,” followed by a quieter, whispered “thanks.” That probably appeases both types of people. Although I guess no one else really thinks about this as much as I do.

I think what we need to do, as a student population, is agree to abandon all these weird social functions. That would make things easier for everyone, and by everyone, I mean all the people that are as neurotic as I am. That is kind of tough to do though, right? How does one deprogram themselves from these weird, unimportant rituals that have been conditioned into us? I still can not shake the “bless you” habit without feeling terrible about myself. I think humans maybe just should have never left hunter-gatherer society, urbanized, industrialized, invented computers and invented social media. It has completely ruined my ability to interact with other people. So maybe if we could roll things back by about 10,000 years, I would be doing alright. Or maybe I would just be scratching complaints about finding food into rocks and hoping someone would read them.

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