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Tales from an 8th grade nothing

Andrew Miller | Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Carl Sagan may have thought the cosmos worth analyzing, but I take a different approach. Instead of looking out and up, let’s look in and down. What can we learn about our world from the life of thirteen year olds? My contention: Absolutely Everything. From my experiences as a summer camp counselor, I have seen that eighth graders truly are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. They, in their interactions, provide us with a microcosm of our day-to-day lives. And so I give you: Microcosmos – How 8th Graders Can Teach Us How Not To Live.

Let’s first look at Blaire and Jenna. Blaire is your average, run-of-the-mill cowboy who lives and works on his family farm. Jenna is a big-city cosmopolitan (Arlington, VA – the biggest of the big cities). And the two fall in love. Now first of all, you know this isn’t going to work out for these star-crossed lovers. They’ll only be together for two weeks at camp and they come from families ideologically at odds with each other. The farmer and the cowman should be friends, but the cowboy-farmer and the debutante – Heaven forbid! As futile as their relationship appeared, though, Blaire and Jenna were making it work.

Making it work, that is, until Blaire decided it was over. He pulled Jenna’s best friend aside and told her to tell Jenna he never wanted to see Jenna again. This was on the last day of camp. Jenna’s friend faithfully reported the news and Jenna cried from lunchtime until her parents came to pick her up at 5 p.m. Blaire and Jenna – separated forever.

So what can we learn from this first case? Men don’t know how to handle relationships. Blaire didn’t commit this folly because he’s innocent, na’ve, or 13. He acted this way because this is the easiest way for a guy to get out of something; he shirked responsibility to remove himself from culpability and feeling bad. I see my guy friends do similar things all the time. Like when my friend, who for the sake of argument we’ll call Friendy-Pants, decided that he wanted to break up with a girl but couldn’t do so face to face so he just stopped talking to her.

Blaire and Friendy-Pants share the trait that all men share. We have an inability to confront the necessary. This may seem counter-intuitive to the macho-mystique that has built up around such figures as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. But every time one of these actors actually did something active and direct it was probably only to cleverly avoid doing something else that would have bothered him emotionally. Remember, John Wayne built him an airport and put his name on it only so he could fly away from his feelings.

Now let’s shift our evolving drama and look at Sammy and Jimbo. Sammy is a great kid with a lot of friends: one of the most well liked kids at camp (by counselor and camper alike). Jimbo is a quieter kid, but deliberately so, because he early on decides that he is better than everyone else. Sammy has a girlfriend; Jimbo does not. Sammy is the life of the party; everyone thinks Jimbo is a jerk. Then one night Jimbo decides to steal Sammy’s letters from his girlfriend. Jimbo thinks that this will be the perfect way to get back at Sammy for all the popularity Sammy “stole” from him. Sammy, trying to get his private correspondence back, swats at Jimbo but inadvertently hits him in the throat. Jimbo starts hyperventilating and threatens to sue Sammy.

The lesson here: we live in an extremely litigious society. Anytime anything happens that could even be remotely considered assault, we go running for a personal injury attorney and sue, sue, sue! Then there are the counter-suits, and the counter-counter-suits, and so on. We just love making other people pay for our discomfort. Jimbo would not accept it was his own fault Sammy hit him; he should not have been stealing Sammy’s letters. Instead Jimbo responded in the way any of us would have in a similar situation: “You attacked me. I’m not hurt. But I can get money from you if I claim that I was or still am.” Just like the woman and the hot coffee that she was not expecting to burn her, Jimbo’s relationship with Sammy shows us how far we will go in our society to make other people feel bad for our personal misfortunes.

In these two brief examples (in which I have explicitly changed names but not even slightly changed the details), I have shown you the extent to which eighth graders do in fact represent real people. Yet we look back on our eighth-grade selves and think, “Wow, I was really lame back in eighth grade. I’m so much more mature now than I was then. I’m glad I never have to be in middle school again.”

But think about it. Really think about it. How much have you actually matured in the past six, seven, eight years? After living with thirteen year olds for three summers straight, I have re-evaluated my own early teenage years. And I realize I’m the exact same person doing the exact same types of things. Why don’t you take the time to reflect on the same question…

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Andrew Miller is a senior English major. He can be contacted at amille15@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.