Student Hypocrisy Part of Problem, Contributes to Injustice

James Tanford, Contributing Writer

I hate receipts.

Pure, unadulterated hate.

Every year, 250 gallons of oil, 10 million trees and 1 billion gallons of water are wasted in the United States alone to remind people that at 3 a.m. they bought a pack of Skittles and a six-month-old issue of People magazine. I daydream about ways to torture receipts, like holding them dangerously close to a candle until the flames swallow them up.

Nothing is more frustrating than the slow degradation of our planet by paper receipts — except that I do nothing about it. Rather than try to incite change, I merely crumple up my receipts and pretend they don’t exist. In fact, I do this with lots of things in my life: I crumple up my problems and throw them away, angry but distancing myself from any involvement.

I’m not alone. The biggest problem with society, regardless of religion, race, gender or political affiliation, is that nobody is a part of “the problem.” In their own eyes, they are always innocent.

Name an issue and Oberlin students contribute to it. Global warming? I see trash cans literally overflowing with beer cans, plastics and cardboard boxes every day, and I elegantly face-planted on the sidewalk this morning after tripping on a pyramid of cans. While the pyramid might be pleasing to some, my bruised face — and planet Earth — disagree.

Easing racial tensions? During the police brutality demonstrations, one of my friends feared leaving his classroom after protesters repeatedly called him racist and threatened him and his classmates for not joining the march, and the petition to postpone first-semester finals produced some of the most intense, racially fired and naïve arguments I’ve ever heard from both sides. As someone who chose not to participate in the demonstrations or sign the petition for reasons other than my — according to some — blatant racism and rejection of cis white male privilege, I felt like I was walking on eggshells in every conversation. I felt ostracized. This is not the way to ease underlying tension.

Showing religious tolerance? Some people showed no mercy (no pun intended) when mocking the conservative Christian protesters in Tappan Square during the fall, but even more disturbing to me was hearing about a pro-life protester on campus verbally attacked for his beliefs. Whether you decide their opinions are wrong or not, did your actions do anything except make a few people chuckle and, in the process, irk me?

Not only was I stunned by the underlying campus tensions, but by my own — and others’ — sense of detachment; I assumed that since I wasn’t directly involved in the situation, I was not at all involved in the larger societal problem.

I thought I was the voice of reason, the single outlier in a sea of injustice, but I realized that I was just as much a part of the issue as everyone else. In all of these situations, I did nothing to ease the tension and merely assumed that my opinion was right and everyone who didn’t agree with me was wrong. I found myself throwing out recyclables and leaving my lights on unnecessarily, making uninformed remarks about race, religion and sexuality and standing by while others did the same things. I would tsk-tsk as someone nonchalantly dropped their homework into a trash bin, only to do literally the same thing minutes later. I was a hypocrite — but so was everyone else telling me about the overarching problems that others contribute to.

This, however, is a problem that can be remedied. It’s not difficult to respectfully disagree — I grew up with very religious friends, and we had discussions all the time that rarely strayed beyond the academic into the emotional. The fact of the matter is, there will always be someone who disagrees with you, and the important thing is to voice your opinion without being degrading. Do you want change? Stop letting emotions get the best of you in discussions. Passionate outbursts only end the conversation, and the point of these discussions is that they don’t end, or else there is no change.

Reducing your carbon footprint is even easier. You with the plastic water bottle: If you throw it out, feel bad, because there are recycling bins all over campus. Make an effort to take care of the planet before it implodes from massive amounts of trash, and the carbon dioxide levels make it impossible to breathe. Don’t be overindulgent, be open to new ideas, don’t be judgmental and if you find yourself having judgmental thoughts, don’t say them aloud. You would be surprised how often people hear these comments. (Hint: It is most of the time.)

Next time I get a receipt, sure, I’ll hate it, and I’ll still grin as I imagine blowing its ashes into the midnight sky, but maybe I’ll feel a little better if I recycle it and email Wal-Mart explaining why they should switch to electronic notifications instead.