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.

Greek Life

Whether you’re part of it, want nothing to do with it, or are on the fence, Greek Life effects everyone here at Northeastern.

In this dialogue, we started off by discussing out conceptions and misconceptions about Greek Life. There’s a lot more to it than parties and socializing, a fact that people not involved with it often miss and something you would never believe when you first entered college.

Then, we dove deep into what makes Greek Life fun, and not so fun. We discussed the rewarding aspects of joining a fraternity or sorority, including meeting new friends, making valuable professional connections, and access to community service. We also looked at the downsides, including the lack of socialization with people outside of Greek Life.

We then moved on to the heavier topic of some inherent problems with Greek Life and how they could be fixed. Do fraternities and sororities have a misogynistic atmosphere? Do they have to be separated by gender? How will they look in the future?

Music

Where to start? Music is a world in its own, and we just scratched the surface in our dialogue.

We started by reflecting on who each of our musical idols are, and why that’s the case. Thinking back on how certain artists or genres shaped our childhood led to some great conversation. We also shared some of our favorite music-related moments — covering concerts, bonding with friends, or cultural appreciation. The diversity of the experiences brought up was a perfect example of how music can mean so much and in such different ways.

We also talked about music on a societal level — how it can be (and has been) a tool for social change, bring people together, and even create division with the judgement associated with music tastes. Why do we like the music we do, anyway? All of this led to some stimulating dialogue, as everyone had a different take on such a subjective matter.

We finished the dialogue feeling more appreciative than ever for music, and wondering whether or not music really is necessary.

Mental Health

Mental health is one of the most important parts of one’s life, but isn’t talked about nearly enough.

Mental health means something different to all of us. To some, it’s a daily struggle of anxiety or depression. Others have had family members suffer similarly. Some of us view it as simply the need to relax, and deal with the monumental amount of stress in our lives. Regardless, no one can deny its importance.

So why are people so hesitant to bring it up? The stigma around mental health may be slowly getting knocked down, but the shame and embarrassment surrounding it won’t disappear overnight. We discussed the role of media in this societal failure, and went on to talk about the horribly poor resources available for this who need help.

We finished the dialogue sharing how all of our views on mental health have changed, whether since coming to Northeastern or in the past few months. It was pretty shocking to reflect, realizing how easy it is to dismiss mental health as weakness or laziness. Staying aware of all of the issues surrounding mental health is just the beginning.