Reconsidering fashion and social courtesy on the A&M campus
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07
The world is full of perfunctory courtesies. They're irritating, superficial and over-played. They're everywhere — polluting our beautiful campus. We've heard them, even said them.
"Hi, how are you?"
"Hey, I'm good. How are you?"
That's a perfunctory courtesy. To some, such an information exchange is polite. But I can't stand it. Giving generic answers to such generic questions only wastes fragile breaths on a dialogue lacking substance.
I sought the expertise of one of my professors on the subject of perfunctory courtesies. Jennifer Mease, assistant communication professor, used another term for the practice: scripts.
"Cultures run scripts," Mease said. "Scripts are conversations cultures know, follow and engage in competently."
Essentially, scripts involve participants assuming roles. In order for a script to be played out, there must be continuity.
The intercultural communication professor described scripts as a play, featuring characters you both know and don't know fully. When interacting with people with whom you are not well acquainted, the roles decay into the monotonous norm — what I call perfunctory courtesies.
There is a way out, though, and it's probably less complicated than you think.
"Ruptures can occur when a script is changed," Mease said. "There is the potential to disrupt them with a kind of genuineness."
Mease went on to share a story from a recent trip to the grocery store in which a cashier experienced a slight change in scripts.
Accustomed to the routine script, the cashier met a customer in front of Mease who forewent the expected script. She asked, in meaningful fashion — with a warm set of nonverbal cues, a soft vocal tone and a stare in her eyes — "How is your day going?"
The cashier, surprised by the rupture in the normal scripts, finally had the opportunity to share her excitement about her family's recent approval for a mortgage they had been trying to achieve for months.
"It was a really neat moment to see this rupture and script open up," Mease said. "It allowed her person to come through."
As college students, when do we have the opportunity to defy the already-written scripts? Do we even want to experience ruptures in our daily scripts? Scripts are a part of life, after all.
Personally, I love to disrupt scripts. When people ask me how I am doing in a second-nature, uncaring kind of way, I respond atypically:
"Did you really just ask me that?" Or, "I'm exhausted, irritated and nobody can help me."
I'm joking, of course. But I do have a favorite way to purposefully create ruptures: complimenting others' style.
"When people don't follow scripts, then we have to go into some kind of sense-making mode," Mease said. "When people break scripts, then we have to come up with an explanation."
Catch people you see off guard by complimenting their unique self. Be genuine. Be inquisitive. Be exciting and substantive.
Don't follow a script that has been played over and over again: "Hi, how are you?" Instead of responding with a generic answer, surprise someone with, "Hey, I really like the scarf you're wearing," or even, "Hey, is that a new pair of boots?" Contribute to a dialogue that will brighten someone's day.
This week, I surprised two people by complimenting the unique way they were fashionably dressed. I recognize that Texas A&M is no New York City runway during fashion week, but that doesn't pardon individuals from looking as if they just got out of bed, and I took the opportunity to break script and encourage fashionable expression.
I noticed Geetika Kasula, freshman animal science major, walking away from Evans Library. She dresses well to feel fresh, clean and prepared to learn in the classroom.
"There's no motivation for me to dress up while in campus because that's just the way I am used to going out," Kasula said. "Dressing up definitely makes me feel comfortable and confident."
Jaehyun Ahn, an agribusiness graduate student, feels the same way. His flashy, outfit-coordinated accessories also gave him a collected look.
"I think my style tells about my identification," Ahn said. "My wardrobe exists for the same reason."
Remember, Aggies, when someone asks how you are, respond with substance and somehow relate their fashion sense.
"There is a way to rupture those ideas that elicits genuineness," Mease said. "Sincerity."
Jason Syptak is a senior marketing major and The Battalion's Style Spectator