A theory of campus turmoil


Jack is a short, skinny, old white man with short, wiry gray hair and a short, wiry gray beard.  He uses a walker.  He’s been with us about three weeks.

Every day, he gets more irritable, more combative and more obscene.

Q.  What’s up with this?
A.  It’s so nice here, he can’t stand it.

Related:  Learning curve

Been there, done that.  I had a temp assignment at yet another major, prestigious law firm.  The atmosphere here was unlike that at any other law firm where I’d worked.  No cursing.  No stress.  On this one lawyer’s birthday, his secretary baked him a big cake, that he shared with staff, including people he didn’t even know.  Some unknown person paid my way to the offsite office Christmas party.

I didn’t know how to act.  I began to act like it.  They kept me on for six months, but I’m not welcome back.

Some months ago, riding a bus northbound on York Road, I gazed out the window wistfully as we passed Towson State University.  That campus: the vast, manicured lawns; neatly trimmed shrubbery; stately buildings; utter tranquility.  Young people of one background can be utterly happy there.  Young people of a different background might can’t.

It’s a question of how much malice pervades the world in which one grew up.

The reality is that some grow up in a world where one must be eternally vigilant for one’s own personal safety.  Where walking down the street, one may meet intense hostility at any time, and must be ready to answer that with hostility of one’s own in order to survive.  Where “watch your back” isn’t a metaphor: one turns one’s head slightly with every step, right and left, so that with every step one’s peripheral vision takes in 360° — lest some predator be stalking who means you bodily harm.

For such a person to be thrust into a world where none of that is necessary, can be unsettling.

Perhaps the pent-up hostility, previously essential to survive, may begin to come out.  Certainly the former real threats and danger can be succeeded by new, imagined ones.  One persists in feeling that the whole environment is hostile.

And one may want to respond in kind.

I have no solutions.  It may only help, to understand where some of these folk come from.

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