Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but cancer is an issue that is prevalent all year round. This Thursday, Open Narratives teamed up with the Northeastern’s American Cancer Society chapter to discuss cancer awareness.

We started by talking about our own experiences with cancer, which varied widely throughout the room, and how the popularity of cancer awareness helped or hindered us. We noted that the focus shouldn’t be exclusively on breast cancer, and that “awareness” needs to go beyond just wearing pink.

Especially as students and young adults, we need to be educating ourselves and others on how and when to access preventative measures like screenings and how to go about helping someone that has been diagnosed. We touched on how we need to break down the stigma of getting tested and going through treatment, and how some good intentions can make it harder for people.

If you’re interested in learning more about cancer and cancer awareness, you can follow Northeastern’s ACS group here: bit.ly/NEUACS1

Relationships and Dating

Dating in college is tough. The unique circumstances paired with everyone coming from different places with different experiences and intentions make for an awkward and difficult few years. This Tuesday at Open Narratives, we dove into the fun topic of relationships and dating.

We first tried to define what they both are. To some people, dating and relationships are both ways of finding the person they want to marry. For others, dating is much more casual and less committed. Next, we talked about the types of relationships that happen in college and whether we feel they’re healthy or not. We agreed that relationships at this young an age often don’t last and aren’t always the healthiest, but of course there’s exceptions.

Finally, we talked about our relationship experiences, preferences, and goals. Unsurprisingly, we had a wide range of all of those, but we all agreed that it’s not something to stress about too much because everything will hopefully fall into place.

Consumerism

It seems that everywhere you look you’re bombarded with advertisements and even the random items around your home are filled with logos and branding. Consumerism, the pursuit of maximum convenience for the buyer at all costs, is what dominates 20th and 21st-century capitalism, for better or for worse. This week at Open Narratives, we discussed this prevalent but often overlooked topic.

We started off by simply trying to define what consumerism is, which was surprisingly difficult. We couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was but could point it out if we saw it. The logical conclusion of capitalism…or something. We dove into the concepts of branding and brand loyalty. Favorite brands ranged from Microsoft to Patagonia to Trader Joe’s, and we had varying reasons of why we liked them even if some of us didn’t consider ourselves “loyal” to them. For those that were loyal, it had to do mostly with positive experiences and perceived stability.

Finally, we moved onto advertising. We shared our targetted advertising horror stories- everything from Google suggesting things that you mentioned the other day to your Panera app offering you a coupon as soon as you step within a certain vicinity of a store. It’s very creepy, but also very convenient.

Socioeconomic Status

At the top of the traditional list of things you should try to avoid talking about with family or friends, alongside religion and politics, is money. Wealth and class are some of the most important topics in our lives, but also some of the most taboo. In our first Open Narratives dialogues of Fall 2019, we put those taboos aside and had a discussion on socioeconomic status.

We began by discussing how money was treated in our households growing up. The answers ranged from never discussing it to being completely transparent. The way it was dealt with by our families seemed to shape how we treat it as adults; whether we’re frugal or heavy spenders, smart or impulsive, and if it makes us anxious or not. We also tried to pin down why exactly finance is something people don’t like talking about, and we all agreed that it mainly stemmed from the fear of being judged, either for having too much or too little.

A very interesting portion of our dialogue focused on how money affects who you interact with. We all had similar experiences of meeting friends who were either much more or much less wealthy than us and starting to drift away from them over time. Those that were richer would often go out and do things you couldn’t afford, or in the other direction, we did things that some of our other friends couldn’t afford. We noticed that friend groups often stratified along socioeconomic lines, even if it was entirely unconscious and unintentional.

Privacy

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”. How relevant is this today? Should the freedom to privacy be given up for safety and security, now that we have physical threats like terrorism and online threats like identity theft?

We began by discussing our thoughts on physical privacy, such as TSA Security at airports, and all agree it is somewhat of a necessary evil. But when the discussion shifted to online privacy, the tone shifted. We all agreed that things like the USA PATRIOT Act, which authorized the government surveillance of private citizens with no warrant, were many steps too far.

Besides just government surveillance, we are also wary of private surveillance. It’s understandably scary when Google recommends a search result based on something you mentioned earlier or when you realize that your Alexa is always on and remembers what you say for later. Sure, it’s for “better tailoring our experience”, but is it worth it?

We finished by talking about what steps we’ve personally taken to protect ourselves from spying. Some of us tried (and failed) to use alternative services like DuckDuckGo instead of Google, while others did simpler things like putting tape over their camera or always keeping Snapchat’s Ghost Mode enabled. But it’s hard to tell if this even works, or if these companies and governments still have ways of finding out what we’re doing.

Israel and Palestine

Since 1947, there have been fifteen major wars and dozens of smaller operations over the control of the Holy Land. The deep-rooted conflict over this goes back over three thousand years, yet is still prevalent in American and international politics to this day. This week at Open Narratives, we took a look what we know about this conflict and how it affects us personally and politically.

We began by discussing our knowledge of the background of the conflict, and the consensus was that despite some of us having studied or traveled to the region, there is a lot we don’t know. Because the conflict is so polarizing, it’s almost impossible to find verifiable, objective facts and news stories on it.

We moved on to discussing why individuals care, even those who aren’t directly involved. The three largest religious groups- Jews, Christians and Muslims- all have a deep spiritual connection with the region, as well as the large Jewish and Arab diaspora. On top of that, Zionism, antisemitism, and more recent pro- and anti-Arab developments keep the concept of the Jewish state and its right to exist constantly in the collective mindset.

Finally, we discussed our views on what should be done. Should the US invade on behalf of their ally or step back? Should we even be supporting Israel at all, and should the land be divided into one or two states?

Immigration

In the past few months, immigration has returned to the forefront of political debate following the government shutdown and as we’re gearing up for the 2020 presidential election. Immigration has been important to the identity of the United States since its beginning, but our system now undoubtedly leaves much to be desired.

We began by discussing why immigration is an issue today- politicians capitalizing on the refugee crisis in Europe and the increase of both legal and illegal immigration to the US as we continue to grow. We talked about the political opinions people have about the subject and misconceptions the sides have about each other. We realized that most people have a similar goal but different ways of reaching it.

We moved on to talking about the problems of our current system and brainstorming how we could fix it. The current legal immigration system is slow and many immigration officials don’t have sufficient training, while many parts of our border are completely unprotected. These and the fact that many people don’t know how to go about getting a visa from their own government sometimes make illegal immigration easier than legal.

Finally, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of assimilation and how to foster it. We talked about possibly making English the national language and other options that would encourage new immigrants to feel more American and more accepted.

Masculinity

In the wake of the controversial Gillette advertisement and other cultural changes, it is important to question the value of traditional masculinity. In a more progressive society where the differences between men and women are being broken down, is it even something we need anymore?

We began by discussing what traits are seen as stereotypically masculine and what the good and bad aspects of them are. Traits such as aggression, strength, passion, and dominance came up frequently. There were a lot of mixed opinions on these traits and masculinity, whether it is a mostly good thing, mostly bad thing, or somewhere in the middle.

As a group, both males and females discussed their experiences with masculinity and where they thought it originated. We talked about why some people are more likely to jump into fights and other kinds of adrenaline rushes than others, and how those experiences in adolescence can affect them as adults. Finally, we talked about how we could better teach young boys to have the good qualities of masculinity without the bad ones.

Addiction

Addiction, in one way or another, is sadly present in almost everyone’s lives. Whether it’s something mundane like caffeine or social media, or something more serious, addiction seems to be everywhere.

We began by defining addiction, which was harder than it would seem. It was difficult to figure out at exactly what point a dependence becomes an addiction. This is what confuses people about the idea of being addicted to something more socially acceptable, like social media or even alcohol. If you can go without it, is it still addiction?

Moving on, we discussed our personal experiences with addiction. These ranged from getting headaches after not having any caffeine in the morning to much more serious and personal ones. We discussed the different ways to approach it. It’s hard to decide who’s to blame in these situations- the person who’s addicted, some outside factor, or whatever they’re addicted to, or some combination.

Political Correctness

Some say our culture has gotten too sensitive, while other say we’re just becoming more aware of what sorts of things are better off not being said.

We started off by trying to define exactly what political correctness is and where it came from. As it turns out, everyone has their own idea of what it is, but we agreed that it can be summarized as a way of speaking to avoid offending people. We all agreed that the concept has been around for a long time, but has gotten more prominent in recent times due to the Internet and increasing awareness of issues pertaining to minorities.

We then discussed the limits of this system and if it goes to far. Disagreements arose about how to deal with a person who genuinely doesn’t know about an issue, if word reclamation is a good thing, and if we are too sensitive as a society. Overall, political correctness is an issue that isn’t going anywhere soon, but we need to remember that language is will always evolve- with or without our society.