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Our misguided culture of cool

2 April 2010 · Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

People who know me might find it amusing, if not ironic, that I’m riffing on what’s cool. As the dad to two pre-teen daughters, I’m well aware that I’m not hip. But, perhaps with experience comes insight, so I offer my 2 cents on the subject anyway.

Today’s was a crisp, Spring, New Mexico morning, cold with bright shining sun, perfect for a morning constitutional. So, I went for a walk. It felt good. I hadn’t done it in a while.

People were out cycling, running, horseback riding, and, like me, walking. I noticed Canada geese and a few varieties of ducks as I crossed the Rio Grande.

The Rio Grande with the Sandia Mountains in the background

As I was walking back across the wide, pedestrian bridge that runs parallel to busy Alameda Avenue, I passed a man, around my age, by himself, with a pair of large binoculars around his neck. It appeared to me that he was out to do some bird watching. And, what a great day to do so! I tried making eye contact with him to say “good morning,” but he deftly avoided my glances. I wondered if he was self-conscious about what he was up to. That got me thinking.

Of course, I could have misread him, but I think the reaction I think I saw is all too common in circa 2010 American culture. We are inundated—no matter how well we insulate ourselves from it—by messages about what’s cool and what’s not. River kayaking? Mountain biking? Rock climbing? Cool! Bird watching? Enh, not so much.

You know where I’m going with this, but I’ll say it anyway: internalizing these messages, taking them to heart and feeling worse about yourself, this is misguided.

What’s cool isn’t what you’re doing, it’s that you’re doing. I could care less what a person’s into. What’s cool to me is when someone loves something enough to take the time to learn a lot about it, then goes and does it, gets into the flow, and really enjoys their bad self.

I mentioned my pre-teen daughters. One is into playing drums and reading comic books. The other loves ancient Egypt and wants to be a stand-up comic or fashion designer when she grows up. These interests couldn’t be more different, and I don’t know what their peers think, but to me it’s all extremely cool. They have things they love to do. They’re happier, more fulfilled little creatures because they have stuff they love. They’re more interesting because they have interests.

So collect stamps, quilt, write cheesy poetry, build model airplanes, carve chainsaw sculptures, play accordion rather than electric guitar, do whatever makes you happy. Don’t worry about the people you fear might judge you because what you like isn’t cool. No one else gets to be the arbiter of what’s worth your time. The people who would tell you you’re not cool, don’t fear them, pity them. They’re misguided.