Being cool

by on 週一, 23 六月 2008 評論
When I was growing up, “cool” meant that the temperature was somewhere in the comfortable range between the bottom of warm and the upper reaches of cold. It still means that in talking about the weather and temperature with an extension to colors like blue green and violet that produce the feeling of coolness and keeping calm with a cool head and giving something or someone a cool reception expressing indifference, disdain or dislike.

But nowadays the young particularly have appropriated the word to themselves. Things or people are cool if they conform to one’s expectations, are agreeable to one’s standards. “That’s cool” or “you’re cool, man.” Or something is excellent or first rate like a cool sports car. As a verb it means to calm down and relax or even slow down or stop altogether what you are doing: “cool it.”

As a slang expression “cool” is rather egocentric. Those within one’s own circle of approval are cool, while others are not. The young and their values are cool; grownups with their old fashioned ideas and practices are not. Neither side understands or trusts the other. Communication is difficult because their idioms and standards are different. Adults want the young to grow up and be like them. The young resist assimilation because they are put off by the apparent contradictions and hypocrisy they seem to find in much of adult social, political and moral behavior.

There has always been a tension between the growing up and the already grown up. But up to a few generations ago relations were relatively quiet. Children were to be “seen and not heard.” It was their role to play among themselves, go to school and study hard or in some societies work in the fields or early begin an apprenticeship or training or labor in a workshop. There were, of course, varying degrees of intimacy between a child and parents depending on culture and personality, but for the most part there was little communication with elders other than listening to their instructions and following their directions. It was generally out of place to speak out or complain or offer one’s own opinions. That’s just the way things were, so one just accepted one’s lot. There was little incentive or expectation of success in rebelling. There was little if any contact with children in other places or even between children in the same place of different classes and no communication or exchange of ideas.

As compulsory education became more universal and schools opened their doors to children of all classes and cultural backgrounds, children began to see that their particular ways of living and understanding were not the only way. This opening of their eyes was accelerated by the advent of movies and radio and the phonograph. Soon there was a whole range of popular songs and singers who especially catered to the young audience. It became fashionable to imitate the hair styles and clothes of movie stars and singers. Most parents had little time to watch movies, disliked the popular music and the hairstyles and clothing fads which often put them on collision courses with their children, who began to question and disagree with a much wider range of parental beliefs and behavior. Parents, of course, were very disturbed and wanted their children to avoid the break away rebellious hippie movement and were alarmed about the easy availability of drugs and pornography, but even when these were not an issue there was a growing rift between parents and offspring as the gaps between each generation’s values, interests and expectations grew.

Then came the Vietnam War. It wasn’t only the young people who questioned the legitimacy of the war or objected to the way it was being waged and the tragic loss of life both of soldiers and civilians and the widespread destruction of the countryside for decades to come, but these things seemed to unite the youth especially and moved them to very vocal criticism of those promoting and defending the war. From that time on, our young people have remained skeptical of their government’s policies and practices, critical of how their elders run their businesses and shown greater concern for the plights of the poor and oppressed and the problems of pollution, ecology and conservation of the earth’s resources.

What does all this have to do with being cool?
It’s cool to espouse justice and honesty.

It’s cool to patiently confront problems and enter into communication and discussion with those responsible for the problems and those responsible for solving them.

It’s cool to cooperate in carrying out group decisions even when they are not what one voted for.

It’s cool to listen respectfully to what others have to say, especially those who are close to you.

It’s cool to be able to express what you believe and do what interests you.

It’s cool to listen respectfully to those who aren’t cool.

It’s cool for parents to listen to their children and give them leeway to be different.

If you are not cool in the presence of the cool, then put on a warm sweater and listen to what they have to say and translate what you want to say into language the cool will understand and respect.

If you are not cool in the presence of someone not cool, then heat up the tone of what you say and do, lest you freeze shut their ears or make them so uncomfortable that they will turn against you.

It’s cool to be cool so long as you don’t hate or avoid or look down on those who aren’t cool.

It’s also cool not to be cool if you aren’t cool so long as you don’t turnoff or alienate those who are cool.

It’s cool to be cool and cool not to be cool toward those who are not cool.

It’s cool not to be cool so long as you are not cool toward those who are cool.

If those who are cool are willing to warm up a bit toward those who are not cool and those who are not cool are willing to tone down a bit their reservations and antagonism toward those who are cool, then the temperature will be just right for both sides to sit down together in an atmosphere congenial to both. “And that’s cool, baby!”

Robert Ronald

Bob was among the most prolific writers of eRenlai. He passed away peacefully on January 2 2009 in Taipei. A tribute to his life and his work can be found here on eRenlai:





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