Monday, April 5, 2010

I spent the weekend in East Lansing with my best friend, who goes to Michigan State. It only took an hour to get there, and I didn't even leave the state, but I felt like I was in an entirely different world than Ann Arbor. I am, ever since graduating high school, always aware that I live in a happy bubble of culture/education/community/etc, but I never really realize what that means until I go someplace different. The only differences I noticed the last time I visited MSU was that the campus was completely separate from the city, whereas the University of Michigan is very integrated with Ann Arbor. This time, however, I couldn't help but notice so much more: the huge roads, the expanses between all the buildings, the fact that we had to drive to get to anywhere significant... It's something I've been noticing more and more lately, probably because of all the urban planning I've been studying. But the biggest difference I found wasn't physical - it was in the way my friend and I thought.

For some background, my friend, we'll call her S and I, have known each other since 5th grade and been very close friends since high school. We're the kind of friends who call each other out when we disagree with each other, have no problem talking about the most embarrassing of subjects, and are the first to find flaws in each other's boyfriends. What I'm trying to say is, once upon a time, S and I had very similar thought processes. True, our worldviews were skewed towards our respective childhoods (my parents are old hippies, hers grew up in China), but still approached things the same way. This weekend, however, we got into a long discussion (argument?) over the environment, business, healthcare, and community resilience. This was destined to be a heated debate from the beginning, as I'm passionate about sustainability and she's going into marketing, but we were both doing a good job of keeping it civil and trying to understand each other's points of view. I'll spare the details of the actual conversation - it went on for quite a while, but we finished with a discussion of changes that needed to be made in the world (corporate responsibility, eating more local food, more education for everyone, caring about the environment), and how we could accomplish them. The part that struck me most, the main point I'm getting at, is for every initiative I proposed, she would counter with something along the lines of "but that's not how the system works."

This frustrated me, and I think this is how our ways of thinking have changed. Maybe it's just a product of the things we study (me: how to create effective, lasting, positive change, hers: how to effectively manage a product), but I think it has to be something more than that. For every insistence of mine that we need to do something about a problem, I felt that she would point out that the barriers were just too immobile. This bothered me - no matter how much I argued that yes, there are problems with the way our society works, we need to find a way to change society in order to fix them, she would point out that that's just not the way it is.

I'm not quite sure what I should be getting out of this. For one, it was good to get an outsiders perspective, as I'm usually dealing with my classmates, but for another it was discouraging to be so ineffective at getting through to someone that individuals can create processes that can change the world. Why am I trying to change the system while she is trying to beat it?

Part of me (and it's bigger than I want to admit) wants to write this off as evidence of the "Michigan Difference" that they're so often telling us about here at U of M, but I don't have enough evidence to support that. There has got to be some sort of divergence between her experience in the past four years and mine that has created a completely different way of approaching the world. I probably can't figure out what that is, but it's been eating at me for the past few days. If an educated, open minded, intelligent woman doesn't believe that we can make a difference, how can I get through to the rest of the world?

Now that that's off my chest, I have three crazy weeks before I can call myself a college graduate..

No comments:

Post a Comment