Category Archives: Opinions

How to succeed in … getting men to Broadway

Broadway did not start out as an exclusive girls club. In fact, a night out in the theater was very well respected among the city’s most element gentlemen. Back in the day, there were no gender biases when it came to theater. There was an equal love and appreciation by both men and women. In 2014, as we trudge along to bring equality to all aspects of life, Broadway is evidently falling behind.

The modern straight man has lost his appreciation for the theater, and theater hasn’t been catering to him either. (AP Photo)
The modern straight man has lost his appreciation for the theater, and theater hasn’t been catering to him either. (AP Photo)

A New York Times article published last week, “In Audiences on Broadway, Fewer Guys Among the Dolls,” points out that only 32 percent of audience members in 2013 were men. That number is down from 40 percent in 1980. One of the reasons Patrick Healy points out is the fact that there are very few “grown-up” musicals nowadays. “Guys and Dolls,” “South Pacific” and “Ragtime” were shows that addressed adult themes and had adult humor. Most Broadway shows that are developed now, such as “Legally Blonde” and “Newsies,” are aimed at young children or mothers.

With the recent opening of “Rocky,” Broadway is hoping to wrangle in more straight men. As the article points out (a bit too blatantly, I may add), gay men are a solid, consistent demographic in the Broadway community. The show is based on the highly successful and highly masculine movie and features onstage combat. As many of the men they interviewed noted, “Rocky” gives them a chance to relate to the material. With shows like “Wicked,” which centers on female empowerment, it is harder for men to relate to.

But one must also consider the other reasons why less straight men are attending Broadway shows. At a very young age, some boys are stereotyped (albeit sometimes inadvertently) into behaving a certain way or liking certain items. For example, many boys are inclined to like the color blue, play sports and stay away from dolls.

These qualities may seem innocent, but there is no doubt in my mind that these gender stereotypes stick with boys as they develop into men. I have to raise the question: do some parents even expose their boys to theater? There is no harm in taking a child to see a musical or a play, just to see what they like. Speaking from personal experience, I attended both Philadelphia Phillies games and musicals when I was younger. Without the help from parents, how will kids ever know exactly what they like? I got to experience a lot when I was younger. And even if I don’t love everything, I at least have a profound appreciation for it.

This is what most of us should strive to be. Whether we are gay or straight, man or woman. We should be respectful and supportive. Men going to theater isn’t emasculating just like women attending sporting events does not strip them of their femininity. I firmly believe that some men would actually enjoy theater if they gave it a chance.

And let’s be honest — everyone should try to see a Broadway show once in his or her life. The same goes for seeing a professional baseball or football game. Whether we love it or not, all of these aspects make up American culture. We cannot allow biases or preconceived ideas get in the way of allowing us a unique experience. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back. But you cannot just automatically assume you won’t like something if you have never experienced it.

Broadway will always find a larger audience in women and children, and that is completely fine. I just hope that in the future, these statistics start to go up and there is more of a gender balance in the chairs of the theaters all throughout New York.

Grades don’t define you, but they still matter

There has been a growing movement on social media platforms like Tumblr for the past several months that can be summed up in four words: grades don’t define you.

Users cite random tidbits of information, mainly about intelligent, successful celebrities who performed poorly in the classroom.

Posts remind people that Albert Einstein failed miserably in school and how Microsoft mogul Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard at age 20 before receiving his degree.

Kate Winslet (you know, Rose, from “Titanic”) and William Shakespeare were dropouts too.

Photos of Scantrons bubbled in to read THIS DOES NOT DEFINE YOU are reblogged hundreds of thousands of times.

Maybe the system is whack, maybe some people are bad test-takers and maybe the SAT doesn’t measure intelligence as well as it could (hey, that’s why they’re revising it, right?).

It is true that getting good grades doesn’t always equate to superior intelligence and getting bad grades doesn’t necessarily equate to stupidity. It’s true that individuals are more than numbers in a grade book.

But, in reality, grades matter. Plain and simple.

What these Tumblr users forget to mention is that Albert Einstein flunked because, well, he was literally a genius and school was just too boring for him. It’s doubtful that everyone who plays the Einstein-was-a-failure card is under-engaged in class because they are just too brilliant.

Bill Gates may have left Harvard early, but hello, he still got into Harvard and that didn’t happen with a transcript of Ds and Fs.

And unless you’re planning on dropping out of school to become one of the most widely recognized actresses on the planet or a poet whose works will prevail for almost half a millennium, your argument is invalid.

Social media has been giving students the wrong idea about how important their grades are. (AP Photo)
Social media has been giving students the wrong idea about how important their grades are. (AP Photo)

It’s true that failing a math quiz every once in a while won’t kill you. Those are the days when you can tell yourself, “My grade is just a number on a piece of paper,” and try not to let it happen again. But skating through your education and rejecting the idea that grades measure anything important is just absurd.

There needs to be some kind of middle ground. Don’t smile at your straight-F report card, but don’t have anxiety attacks over your 89 average, either. Just do your best, study for your exams and learn as much as you can. The rest should come naturally.

A letter to men: It’s okay to step out of the mold

By Maria Mostyka

Guys, where are you? You — the vulnerable, the insecure and the emotional? I know you are out there, struggling alone with your insecurities and problems. Why is it so difficult for you to open up, admit you have not figured it all out, admit you don’t have the answers you should have by now? Having asked these questions, I realize my answers are biased, and I might be wrong because they are from a woman’s perspective. But still, I will try to find the missing pieces of this “communication-gender-feelings” puzzle.

Society often forces men to conform to a set mold of masculinity. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)
Society often forces men to conform to a set mold of masculinity. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)

Why guys do not reach out and tell their stories? Well, they’re not expected to. Research by James Mahalik, a professor of psychology at Boston University, showed that in order for men to conform to the male norms in America, they must always show emotional control, put their work first, pursue status and engage in violence. The men’s greatest fear is the fear of being perceived weak. OK, the obvious reason for the lack of communication of emotions is social expectations. Society has become a go-to scapegoat of any kind of problem, yet blaming it does not solve these problems. Even though gender norms are shaped by our society, society is not an abstract entity that is somehow distinct from us and which we can easily designate as a culprit all the while forgetting that it is we — both men and women — who make up this society.

Research by Brene Brown, a renowned expert on shame and vulnerability, provides a striking insight on the unwillingness of men to open up. One of the men she interviewed said it is not the guys who are hard on him. It is the women in his life — his wife and daughters — who are harder on him than anyone else. They would rather see him die on top of a white horse than see him falling. The interviewee succinctly concluded, “When we reach out and are vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us.”

Yes, women too contribute to this problem as much as society. Women set up intimidating goals and don’t help men to reach them. First, women want a man who is vulnerable and strong — who can admit he is scared, but who can hold it together in difficult times and who can show insecurities and dashingly overcome them. It’s not impossible to simultaneously embody these qualities, but unfortunately, both men and women believe that to open up is to be weak. Secondly, men’s idea of sharing can veer to the extreme. To open up does not mean to engage in “emotional vomiting” — it’s not about pouring out everything pent up since you where in fifth grade. And here’s the third problem: when the emotional gates do open, women are not prepared for what comes out. We are not. Our unpreparedness to deal with it shuts men down, resulting in miscommunication, frustration and distance.

In calling for guys, I am also calling for women to be ready to meet insecure, vulnerable and fearful men. The missing pieces of the puzzle fall into places when both men and women treat openness not as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of courage. The word “courage” itself is derived from the old French corage — “heart, innermost feelings.” Sharing struggles and overcoming insecurities is a process that takes patience, time and the two of you. Men, tell your girlfriends what really worries you. Women, be comfortable with not knowing what to say. Successful communication is not only about listening, but also about tactful silence. In the end, it is up to us to redefine social norms, so what we can expect from each other is what we really want to do.

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Politicians motivated by ‘something human’

By Mike Herold

Fantasy Sports Editor

Politics suck. Yeah, I’ll say that up front — they are messy, oftentimes brutal conflicts between conflicting viewpoints and goals, where neither side wants to concede an inch, and everyone is out to get what they want, never minding the damage it might cause to anyone else. The work of politics doesn’t revolve around the issues so much as it does around making the right people feel the right thing at the right time to move up, bit by bit, until something astronomical is achieved, most likely power at the expense of those who helped get there. It’s something that has sunk into most parts of our culture, as most people hoping to move up in life at some point have to play their hands at politics.

Politicians are not as heartless and selfish as they are often made out to be, they are mistake-making humans just like all Americans. (AP Photo)
Politicians are not as heartless and selfish as they are often made out to be, they are mistake-making humans just like all Americans. (AP Photo)

It stands to reason, therefore, that the people who willingly decide to enter into such a field of lies and deception must be as terrible as the game they play. I mean, they must be deserving of all the vitriol they face on a daily basis, either in person or on TV. And don’t even get me started on the amount of insane hatred the Internet feels for politicians. For all of that, people in politics simply have to be awful, don’t they?

No. No, politicians are not the evil, soulless beings they are made out to be. They do not deserve the hatred that spews in their general direction seemingly all the time, and are certainly not the monsters the general public appears to believe them to be.

In fact, in a shocking turn of events, politicians are people, just like the rest of us.

And you know what that means? It means they aren’t perfect, just like the rest of us, even if we non-politicians want them to be perfect. It means that a politician brings to the table every quality that makes us all human — the flaws, the imperfections and, yes, the feelings. It also means that at some point, every politician made a decision, a very human decision, to try to do something about an issue he or she cared about.

Because when you think about it, going into politics is very rarely a selfish decision. The modern political hopeful is entering into a world where every imperfection in his or her life will soon be brought to light, every poor decision and skeleton in the closet scrutinized by everyone else in the least personal way possible. Anything that goes wrong will immediately be that politician’s fault, and anything that goes right will definitely be in spite of his or her efforts — or, at least, that’s what anyone in the opposing party will think and say as loudly as they are able.

Does that really sound like something you’d like to do?

Yet politicians, facing all of this, not to mention the financial hit many of them end up taking, still decide to go into politics. They don’t do it for power, at least not all of them. They do it because of something human — they see something they think is wrong and want to be in a position to fix it.

Look, I’m not saying that all politicians are wonderful people — clearly that isn’t the case — but neither are they all terrible. I’m just saying that perhaps we shouldn’t judge them so harshly, or react so gleefully when they fall. We shouldn’t expect them to be perfect, because, when it gets right down to it, they’re people.

Ask anyone — people aren’t perfect.

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Local poverty missing from media coverage

On Tuesday, March 18, my Race, Gender and The News class taught by Professor Kim Pearson, had a field trip to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. As a collective, our goal was to speak with the staff and homeless patrons at TASK to get their opinions of the local media coverage of poverty.

The media coverage for local areas like Trenton fails to focus on the problem of poverty and centers such as the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.  (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)
The media coverage for local areas like Trenton fails to focus on the problem of poverty and centers such as the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)

During our visit, several of the tutors and homeless patrons reiterated the notion that poverty is under-covered in the news. They said the media tends to either focus on the negative stereotypes or ignores the issue entirely.

I personally feel that the coverage of poverty is an important issue because those who are in the poverty level or who are homeless are often not configured into statistical reports that the media releases.

According to a census conducted in October of 2013 by the U.S. bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Mercer County is 6.9 percent. This can be compared to the New Jersey unemployment rate of 8.4 percent, according to the same census.

However, the percentages, in reality, are probably lower than what is reported. Typically, the reports do not include the people who have given up looking for employment, are working multiple jobs to remain afloat or are homeless. These people have become invisible in our own county.

Amazing programs like TASK, Homefront and ArtSpace are not only trying to help those who are suffering from homelessness and poverty, but they are also trying to positively reinforce their lives by having the patrons create paintings, poetry and skits. Why isn’t the media covering this? While a couple of local organizations cover the happenings at these places, most do not.

There really are some great organizations and events that are held in Trenton, like the Gandhi Garden, in honor of helping those in need, but without local coverage they will go unnoticed. Media has such power and so much influence over what the general public pays attention to, whether the information is distributed in print or online.

Using the same journalistic practices of reporting and informing the public about local issues, like poverty, journalists have the potential to be the catalysts to great changes.

Smartphones aren’t always the smart choice

By Mike Herold
Fantasy Sports Editor

We live in a world filled to the brim with technology. You know what I’m talking about — there’s a good chance you’re reading this on a smartphone, a technological advancement that was a wild dream as recently as 20 years ago. Come on, a computer that fits in the palm of your hand and also functions as a phone, plays games and lets you watch movies or TV shows that stream from websites? The future is here, and it’s sitting right there in your fingers.

Individuals become more dependent on their phones with each new version companies produce. (AP Photo)
Individuals become more dependent on their phones with each new version companies produce. (AP Photo)

Now here’s the problem: I don’t think that the technological boom is necessarily a good thing.

Hold on, hear me out real quick before you jump to some conclusion that I’m a tech-hating spouter of nonsense.

As most of the people who know me will tell you, I don’t have a smartphone, but that isn’t necessarily because I hate technology. It has more to do with the fact that I’m broke and can’t afford one. Not having one has let me notice something important: Smartphones are making us dumber.

Not dumber in terms of IQ points or scores in class, mind you. When I say that smartphones are making us dumber, I’m referring to the way we communicate with one another, which might eventually translate to a loss in those other, more important categories of “smartness.”

See, back when we were all kids, we had to actually call each other on the phone in order to contact our friends. We had to talk to their parents, most likely, which meant we had to use actual words and some modicum of politeness. Now if we want to talk to a friend, we just send a text, likely lacking in any sort of polite wording or anything resembling proper grammar. Heck, we’ve got autocorrect if we even want to pretend to sound “smart.”

Another area of shrinking expertise is the art of the argument. Not a shouting argument, but a simple hearty discussion of different ideals and points of view.

In the past, in order to sound remotely intelligent whenever you and your peers got into one of these discussions you had to have some sort of prior knowledge about the subject. You had to think differently in order to make whatever point you wanted to make, while possibly seeing another perspective from your opposition. Now we don’t have intellectual debates, we have searching competitions.

A person does not need to remember anything, since Google is just a few finger swipes away, and no argument a college student makes is going to hit too hard against the graduate dissertation the smartphone user can pull up while sitting on the couch.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say that smartphones, and technology in general, are making us dumber. We aren’t required to do as much or learn as much, or even use as many words, simply because every bit of information we’d possibly need is right there in our hands, ready to autocorrect and search as needed.


Assertive and kind — compassionate arguing

By Maria Mostyka

Compassionate arguing is not an oxymoron. It is a tangible and indispensible type of discourse that must be practiced if we are to understand one another deeply. Before making a case for compassionate arguing, I will briefly outline the problems with the way we typically argue.

Listening with an open heart and mind is key when communicating with compassion. (AP Photo)
Listening with an open heart and mind is key when communicating with compassion. (AP Photo)

The goal of a typical discourse is to defeat the opponent by proving him or her wrong. It is all about finding the weak spots and aiming right there. In such talk we don’t listen to each other, and if we do, our listening is selective: what can I prove wrong and what should I dismiss?

How do we feel afterward? From discussing controversial issues to arguing about mundane matters, we so strongly identify with our opinions that our opinions become us and a critique of what we say becomes an assault on who we are. Both victors and losers experience emotional damage: we are left being extremely angry or upset or slightly disgruntled or even just in a bad mood. As Danny DeVito said in the movie “The War of the Roses,” “There’s no winning, only degrees of losing.”

An alternative to this type of discourse is the one filled with compassion. But first, I would like to say that talking with compassion does not mean to agree with everything your opponent has to say. When people engage in what they think is a compassionate discourse, they tread very cautiously, being afraid to offend or stir a controversy. Although this is considerate and nice, such discourse often doesn’t lead anywhere because people end up censoring their opinions and being squishy. We can hug each other and go home while reaching no consensus on topics as global as America’s involvement in the business of other countries or as personal as the existence of God and the purpose of faith.

But how exactly do we engage in a compassionate discourse? The goal is not to “win,” but to enrich our understanding of the issue and to realize the extent of our ignorance. It is to find where we might be wrong—why are we so sure of our position and where are our blind spots? As Donald Davidson, the late professor of philosophy at the University of California Berkley, explains, “If we want to understand others, we must count them right in most matters.”

Such understanding comes from a place of deep compassion. From the very beginning we have to be empathetic to the person while making in our minds at least the possibility that he or she might be right. In the end, we might not agree with their position, but to appreciate their view we must take in the whole context of their opinion.

To achieve this goal, we must listen with an open mind and with an open heart. It means to listen not only to the words, but also to the body language, to the intonation and to the unspoken. Karen Armstrong, a British author, recommends that we pay special attention to angry speeches in order to decode their meaning, making an effort to hear the pain behind the anger and frustration.

Compassionate discourse is assertive and kind, empathetic and honest. It might not be politically correct, it might touch raw nerves, but we must address difficult questions from the place of sincere caring. Instead of looking across, we will look in the same direction — at the issue itself and try to reach a consensus. We will no longer be opponents, but companions. We will emerge from such discourse feeling peaceful and content while having a much deeper appreciation of a different viewpoint.

I hope you will soon have a chance to put these principles to practice, and in any case, I’m open to a compassionate discourse, well, about compassionate discourse.

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The College’s students are good neighbors

By Regina Morin
World Languages and Cultures Department

I read with interest the article regarding problems off campus with the College students and the surrounding community. I teach here at the College and live in Ewing. I know the problems described in the article are real. I have experienced them firsthand at other institutions. However, I would like to come out in defense of the great majority of our students who do not cause problems and are responsible citizens of our community.

Students are great additions to community life and Ewing neighborhoods. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)
Students are great additions to community life and Ewing neighborhoods. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)

There are a number of houses around mine that are rented to our students. In the seven years I have lived in Ewing, we have never experienced any problems.

Today, I had a particularly heartening experience. I was walking my dog, as usual, when a pit bull came out of nowhere and would not leave us alone, jumping up on me and grabbing at my dog. I was scared to death, and truth be told, a little bit hysterical as anyone who knows me might imagine. But the other dog’s owner was nowhere in sight.

A gentleman driving by saw the problem and stopped to help. Four young women from the College, runners, also saw the problem. One came and took my dog out of my arms to carry him, and all four of them surrounded me, putting themselves between us and the pit bull, while the other man distracted him.

They told me they were from the College, and I jokingly told them that so was I, and they might wind up in one of my Spanish classes. But the point is that I have great faith in our young adults in general because of what I see every day in our students.

While there are a few bad apples, students like the ones who helped me today should be commended. I believe that most of our students are like them.

Get your opinion published

Is healthcare a right or a privilege? Should Roe vs. Wade be overturned? How can the relationship between Ewing residents and TCNJ students improve?

Interested in sharing your opinion about a TCNJ, State, or National issue?  Or would you like to respond to an article already published in The Signal?  The opinions section ofThe Signal welcomes writing submissions from students, alumni and faculty.

If you would like to learn more or submit your opinion, contact our opinions editor, Courtney Wirths:


Humans vs. Zombies takes off at the College

We saw them this past week, creeping around corners, dueling outside of Green Hall and sometimes walking on campus like average students, albeit equipped with foam swords and mischievous grins: the players of the “Human vs. Zombies” game are a great mid-semester reminder of how important it is to let off steam and relieve anxiety.

Participants in Humans vs. Zombies use the game as a great way to bond as a club and relieve some mid-semester stress. (Photo courtesy of Jared Sokoloff)
Participants in Humans vs. Zombies use the game as a great way to bond as a club and relieve some mid-semester stress. (Photo courtesy of Jared Sokoloff)

More and more College students are participating in this campus-wide game every semester, which is essentially an elaborate version of manhunt. All but one of the players are humans at the beginning, identifying themselves with strips of cloth, while a lone zombie kick-starts the game going by “killing” — or touching — humans. Once a human is touched, they are infected and must try to turn the remaining humans to win the game. Humans win by avoiding zombie contact for an entire week.It’s not unique to the College — hundreds of campuses in the U.S. have adopted “Humans vs. Zombies,” with varying rules and contestants — nearly 2,000 people regularly participate at University of Georgia, while it’s a sport of its own at host school Goucher College — and there are other fantastical clubs out there. At Middlebury College, for example, dozens of students flock to on-campus fields each Sunday to play Harry Potter-inspired games of quidditch.These games are easy to dismiss, but there’s a reason they’re so popular: it’s important to relieve stress, even if that entails dressing up (down?) a little and laying traps for your friends in Bliss Hall. Last week, The Signal published a phenomenal piece on “Generation Y” being the most depressed generation, called “Generation Y and the infinite sadness,” and it was just another piece of evidence on the seriousness and worsening state of mental health in the U.S.

This is the most anxious country in the world — it’s not even close, according to a 2012 study by the World Health Organization — where 80 percent of college students frequently suffer daily stress, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. There’s so much to feel anxious about, from looking good every morning to wondering how you’ll convince an employer you’re worth being paid real, non-Monopoly money. It can be easy to feel weighed down by the pressure that comes hand-in-hand with college life, and it’s essential to find a release.

That’s why it always brightens my day to see humans and zombies in a not-so-epic battle on campus, three feet away from where I’m walking. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the game, and I understand why it’s not for everyone. But if it helps some people completely escape the stresses of college life for a few hours, more power to them.

Hollywood still cuts women’s screen time short

While accepting her Oscar for best actress, Cate Blanchett proudly stated that, “those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them, and, in fact, they make money.”Cate Blanchett

This year’s Oscar-winning films were refreshing — filled with powerful women in many leading roles.

The film for which Blanchett earned her Oscar was “Blue Jasmine.” The film starred two sisters played by Blanchett and Sally Hawkins.

Disney’s “Frozen” won an Oscar for Best Animated Film. It featured another sister duo as its heroines with the leading male as simply a sidekick.

“Gravity” was a revolutionary film that took home a total of seven Oscars, including the Oscar for Best Director. For the majority of the film, there is only one character, Ryan Stone, the protagonist played by Sandra Bullock.

Sandra Bullock was the only character on screen for the majority of ‘Gravity.’ (AP Photo)
Sandra Bullock was the only character on screen for the majority of ‘Gravity.’ (AP Photo)

Two of Hollywood’s greats, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, paired up to take large roles in the drama “August: Osage County.” Other female powerhouses who received nominations or Oscars were Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle.”While she didn’t have the lead, Lupita Nyong’o took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “12 Years a Slave.” The film was also the winner of Best Motion Picture.

This year’s Oscars represented a big night for women in the film industry, but Hollywood still has a long way to go before it can be considered a place of gender equality.

The New York Film Academy took a look at how women are portrayed in the top 500 films between the years of 2007 and 2012. The results are alarming.

According to their data, only 30.8 percent of speaking characters are women and only 10.7 percent of films have a balanced cast — meaning 50 percent of the cast is female.

Roughly a third of women are shown in sexually revealing attire or nude, according to the Academy. In contrast, only 10 percent of men in movies are shown in “sexy” attire or are partially nude.

The statistics do not get any better when it comes to children’s and family films. In fact, the ratio of men to women in family films hasn’t changed since 1946.

“From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law or politics. In these films, 80.5 percent of all working characters are male and 19.5 percent are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50 percent of the workforce,” according to a study done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Women are underrepresented behind the scenes as well. In 2012, only 20 percent of editors, 15 percent of writers, 9 percent of directors and 2 percent of cinematographers were women, according to the New York Academy of Art.

Women purchase 50 percent of movie tickets every year. Each movie ticket is similar to a vote from a consumer. So while things are looking up for women in film, viewers should show support for quality films with strong female leads and balanced casts.


The many forms of compassion

By Maria Mostyka

What is compassion anyway? It is hard to imagine an easier question. We think we do know what it is, and we know how to be compassionate — be good and kind, help someone in need. It is also the basis of the Golden Rule: “Do not treat others as you would not like to be treated” or “Treat others as you would like others to treat you.” Compassion is often associated with religious doctrines, and observing the Golden Rule makes you a good (insert your religion here) follower and, generally, a good person.

While all this is undoubtedly true, compassion is more than that. It is the ability to be fully present with the other person. It is the willingness to let yourself be seen — to show a glimpse of that protected and armored “you,” those raw thoughts and emotions. To be compassionate is to cherish the present moment and to stay with the suffering or distress of the other person.

In order to be compassionate, you have to make a genuine connection and you have to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the core of compassion. The core and the stumbling block as well. The difficulty arises because we often imagine ourselves doing an act of kindness for a stranger. Why would I open up to a stranger? The good deed is done, and we walk away feeling nice about ourselves. And hey, I did help that fallen lady get up, I did volunteer at the soup kitchen and I did donate to charity.

While these acts are immensely valuable, when we are deeply compassionate, we are willing to be vulnerable in order to truly see and feel the suffering of the other person in his or her most distressful moment. Moreover, compassion is something that should extend to all of our relationships. Surprisingly, it can be hard to be compassionate with the people we love precisely because we need to be uncomfortably honest and open in order to make a stronger connection, to have a “me-too” or an “I-feel-you” moment, to face the fear of messing up the relationship. Yet, without this raw openness and vulnerability, it is very hard to make a connection and be deeply compassionate.

The hardest act of compassion is the one toward ourselves. Self-compassion. Unfortunately, people often confuse self-compassion with selfishness: self-compassion is not selfishness. Selfishness is actually not loving yourself and consequently trying to snatch the attention, the pleasures and all the possible and impossible things to fill the void created by the neglect of self.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, is the ability to be kind and non-judgmental toward yourself. It is an understanding that you do not have to be perfect, that you are enough. Self-compassion is a very counterintuitive notion because we believe harsh criticism is motivational and character building. Nothing can be further from the truth. According to Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and a lecturer at Stanford University, when we harshly criticize ourselves, the parts of our brain responsible for action shut down, and the brain goes into a protective mode. But most importantly, we cannot be genuinely compassionate toward others if we are not compassionate toward ourselves.

As I have attempted to show, compassion deserves a second look because it is complex and multifaceted — it is intricately tied with vulnerability, honesty and ability to stay in the moment, and even our relationship to our selves. Ultimately, compassion deserves a second chance because it is up to us to dare to be compassionate and to find out what it is.


Blue bins, please

By Andrew Samuel

I am writing in complete and utter agreement to the editorial piece from Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2014 about the lack of recycling on campus. When the Campus Facilities survey comes out every year, I write in my comments that there needs to be more recycling readily available around campus. I should not have to walk halfway across campus to find a blue bin to deposit my bottles or old newspapers. The latter is probably the hardest to find a place to recycle. I live in Townhouses South, and while I always say the College learned from its mistakes with previous townhouses in South, it did not learn that having a dumpster is a necessity.

There also is little publicized about why this campus does not recycle. An alumnus of the college informed me why there is little recycling — when they pick up the recycling, they search a portion of it to look for things that cannot be recycled by the system, and if any of that is present, the whole batch is landfilled. This is not discussed, and while the dumpsters have labels on them, we are not going to search through our recycling to confirm what is in there once we trek to the dumpster.

And finally, as a civil engineering major, I have taken an environmental engineering course and studied the management of solid waste. The culture we have, both on campus and across the country, of landfill it and forget about it is unsustainable. Between styrofoam containers that will never decay to plastic bottles that will be sitting in those landfills for another 10,000 years before they are close to gone, we cannot ignore recycling any longer. A recent proposal for a waste-to-energy incinerator in Mercer County was immediately trashed (pun intended) when the proposal put it near Trenton and there was fear it would pollute the city and the county, and that nobody wants a trash smell in their county. Have these people been to Elizabeth? Or driven through Middlesex County when the wind blows the cover off part of the landfill in Edison? Europe incinerates most of their waste for energy to ensure maximum land utilization, I think it is time the U.S. did the same. Maybe the College could make part of the power plant an incinerator, but that is pushing it a little too far right now. Let’s try to get recycling bins first before an incinerator.

Conspirators — a bone of contention

By Frank Stabile

Of the many things that regularly annoy me, one of the less frequent but more irritating subjects is conspiracy theories. Last year, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy caused a resurgence of conspiracy talk. As the stories go, some combination of Lee Harvey Oswald, the mafia, the Cubans, the Soviets and the Central Intelligence Agency were responsible for Kennedy’s death. Oddly enough, there seems to be at least one of these theories for every major national event. The attacks of Sept. 11 were actually a series of controlled explosions coordinated by the Bush administration. The Apollo moon landing was taped at a Hollywood set, the government stores aliens and their aircraft in Area 51, and everyone knows that the Illuminati are close to establishing a New World Order. These ideas are ridiculous, but somehow manage to persist and capture the minds of surprisingly large portions of the population. In this article, I describe recent data and studies on conspiracy theory in America and discuss the implications of such unfounded ideas.

The killing of JFK is one of the most popular topics for conspiracy theorists. (AP Photo)
The killing of JFK is one of the most popular topics for conspiracy theorists. (AP Photo)

The latest polls on belief in conspiracy theory are somewhat reassuring, but mostly alarming. Two polls conducted in 2013 by Public Policy Polling asked participants if they believe in a series of well-known conspiracy theories. For the most part, less than 15 percent of respondents accepted these nonsensical theories, such as the faked moon landing and the existence of Bigfoot and Sasquatch. However, 37 percent believed that global warming is a hoax, 21 percent believe that the government covered up an alien crash at Roswell, 20 percent that vaccines are linked to autism, and 28 percent that a secret society is planning for the New World Order. This means that one in every four or five people in America probably believes in at least one of these conspiracy theories.

The numbers are even worse for the Kennedy assassination. Gallup, Inc., has conducted nine polls since 1963, asking participants if they believed other people besides Oswald were involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. In the years immediately following the assassination, about 50 percent of participants believed in a conspiracy. This number increased steadily and peaked in 1976 and 2001 at 81 percent. The percentage has dropped since then, but still stands at a high 61 percent. Many people identified the mafia and the government as probable co-conspirators. Despite a huge body of official and independent work that agrees on the lone gunman explanation, more than half of Americans believe that a conspiracy killed the president.

Pollsters are not the only ones interested in conspiracy theory. In 2010, psychologists Viren Swami and Rebecca Coles of the University of Westminster published an article summarizing recent studies of conspiracy theory. The piece, titled, “The truth is out there,” shows that belief in conspiracy theory is often linked to a lack of trust in the government and feelings of frustration and isolation. The authors suggest that conspiracy theories provide answers in a world of uncertainty and catastrophe and give the theorist some sense of control. In this way, adherence to a conspiracy theory against all evidence seems to be a reflection of a negative worldview, rather than a strain of lunacy.

With an understanding of the scope and origin of conspiracy theories, it is easier to consider the implications of such ideas. Many people are distracted by conspiracy theory and invest tremendous amounts of effort in stories that have little or no evidence. But, unfortunately, the consequences do not stop at wasted time. While people sit at their computers watching the planes fly into the World Trade Center over and over again, they miss the actual conspiracies. I often wonder if the 9/11 truthers or Bigfoot hunters care about the National Security Agency’s massive spying programs. Are they interested in conspiracies that really occurred, like the assassination of Abraham Lincoln or the Watergate scandal? I’m worried that the answer is no, and that conspiracy theories distract intelligent and otherwise reasonable people from truly important issues.

The solution, of course, is to embrace a more rational way of thinking. Instead of assuming the mainstream is wrong and finding the facts to match, people must start with the evidence and decide from there. This holds true for the argument I make here. All of these poll data and studies are available online, and I urge interested readers to examine the information themselves. A more critical approach is vital. The future will continue to bring new crises and there is no time to waste on fairies and gremlins.