Why I stopped caring about being cool.
Cool. Hip. Excellent. Far out. Nifty. Sweet. My dad reports that in his day, in the forties, they used to say "shoe."
Words change to keep up with the times. After all, the word you use to mean "cool" has to be cool, right? "Groovy" is so last generation!
As you can probably tell, I don't have the faintest idea what the kids are saying these days. The last cutting edge word I knew about was "phat."
My youngest sister wanted to know what happened to me. "You used to be so cool," she said. "You taught me what was cool."
"I guess being ‘cool' isn't important to me anymore."
"Why not?" she challenged me.
So I started thinking about it. It's more than the total arbitrariness and subjectivity of what's "cool" (one person's cool is another person's nebby). The main reason is because if I am labeling myself as cool, then anyone who disagrees with me, who has different taste is, by definition, UNcool. Whoever likes different music or styles is deficient, lacking, unworthy.
And I don't think God wants us to look at each other that way. (I mean, I know how painful it is for me when my own children treat each other badly -- imagine how it is for God to see us behaving that way!)
I can't feel good about myself when I look at others in a scornful way. I don't want that kind of relationship with other people. I want to strive toward loving my fellow man, and loving myself without feeling a need to put others down.
The name of the game in today's society -- certainly in entertainment and politics -- is mocking others, catching them in embarrassing moments, revealing their faults to the world. We make alliances with people by jointly trashing someone else. It's become a hobby and a sport (and it's such an easy habit to fall into!). We think smearing someone else lifts us above the heap and shows just how cool we really are.
Being cool generally means rejecting, judging, and distancing. And when we treat our fellow human beings this way, it demeans us, and makes us smaller.
We can push people away, mock and even hate them for superficial reasons, and basically deny their humanity. Or we can seek connection, try to learn to love others, and give of ourselves.
I want that openness, that earnest wrestling with the world and with my own self. I want to embrace and appreciate people.
Instead of propping up my ego by making superficial changes and then looking down on others who have made different choices, I want to try to truly raise myself up by changing on the inside, by becoming kinder, more patient, more loving, less self-centered.
Lucky for me, there is a standard instruction manual for this self-improvement program that is far from arbitrary and subjective, and behaving better toward other people -- being nicer, more accepting, less judgmental -- is its central pillar. As Rabbi Hillel said, on one foot: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary; now go and learn.
Now that's pretty cool.