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You too need 'Me too'

This weekend, hundreds of students will make a rare visit to the Nelson Music Room in search of something they do not often find in the day-to-day grind of studying, testing, rinsing and repeating: a deeply emotional experience—a two-hour period where they will witness the portrayal of pain, grief, embarrassment and love, and in the process undergo their own catharsis while learning how to better understand their peers. They will be audience to the newest edition of the Me Too Monologues, a series of anonymous confessional monologues designed to communicate the struggles and identities of Duke students, faculty and alumni in order to promote empathy and understanding. We wrote last year that the Me Too Monologues, while admirable and worth seeing, ought not to be seen as a one-off exchange of time for emotional inoculation and social capital, but rather as a springboard towards emotional advancement. Today, we repeat that message and explain why the Monologues and what they have to offer are valuable here at Duke.

A key mischaracterization of students at colleges like Duke is that their senses of emotional apathy and resistance are always carried purposefully and that they willingly erect a shield system around themselves to avoid being seen as weak. Perhaps that is true of O-Week first-years and rushing Freshmen, but for others it is not so. Rather, most students simply become overly used to negative stimuli. After earning two depressing 50 percent scores on organic chemistry tests (which may in fact have won them an A), catching wind of a whispered behind-the-back jibe about “tryharding” and failing to crack a desired in-group in the social scene, a thick skin impervious to day-to-day emotional pricks builds up. To be sure, emotion does not go away—people still feel crushed about an election, disappointed about class performance and elated about a good grade—but it fades to staticky, occasionally uncomfortable, background noise.

The development of emotional near-invulnerability has its benefits: more time to focus on thoughts, study and parties, but it comes at a cost—empathy. Without recent memory of piercing emotion, it is remarkably hard to understand another’s feelings beyond a shallow level. The friend who has failed a test and been cheated on gets a few well-meaning nods and words, but can’t truly be related to. And that is where Me Too Monologues come in. A portrayal of deeply personal emotion and discomfort, the performance offers students a chance to rid themselves of their armor and be enveloped in caring thoughts for others. The Monologues do not need to teach us how to feel—we know well how to do that; they remind us that it is okay to feel strongly by revealing to us that others, as swamped in major requirements and 9:00 p.m. meetings as we are, are suffering with issues they are dying to talk about.

The Monologues, if effective as a reminder, should jolt students into taking a closer look at people around them and seeking to console those feeling down. They should prompt those facing emotional terror to feel comfortable telling a friend who went to the Monologues about the nature and essence of their misery. They should and can bring us closer as a community, acting as an ingredient for a healing salve that we can all use to help each other. Viewing and taking with you the Monologues can lead to a better you and better us.

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