Last winter quarter, I made a personal vow after a transformative experience in my Power, Identity, and Resistance II class. It wasn’t that I would stop putting off my final papers until the last week, nor that I would force myself to attend every professor’s office hours. My vow was to completely eliminate the word “interesting” from my academic lexicon.
This personal initiative was, admittedly, not a culmination of epiphanies over my first two years at UChicago. Rather, it came spontaneously when our Power class discussed Karl Marx’s Capital. I raised my hand to insert what I thought to be a significant contribution to the conversation. Instead, my only recollection of that moment was an aimless ramble about how I found something interesting in Marx’s text.
It was only a matter of time before I realized that the class was hardly following anything I was saying. I stopped, realizing I should’ve thought a little more before blurting out total nonsense. Professor Darryl Li kindly attempted to extrapolate something remotely intelligible out of the word salad I just served him, but doing so was trying to redeem the irredeemable. To say the least, I left that class session rather dejected.
As I sat while back in my room, still flustered, I couldn’t help but revisit Canvas to review some of the old discussion posts I made during my first-year music class. I word-searched ‘interesting’ in every weekly forum only to find it in at least half of my own posts and responses. If it’s true that everyone at UChicago has their quirks, one of mine was probably the (ab)use of ‘interesting’ and every one of its synonyms to escape actually thinking before speaking.
This bothered me deeply. Why was I so insistent on using the word interesting? I should have considered: why or how is something interesting? In my case, describing a certain passage as merely interesting was like reading the text, striking a sentence or paragraph with a highlighter, but not annotating why or how that passage was important. Given my degree of abuse, I might as well have covered my entire book in neon yellow.
My point is that I would say things were interesting because I either had nothing else meaningful to offer to the class discussion or because I made a snap decision that was predicated upon little to no thought beforehand (usually to secure those precious participation points). But I wasn’t showing that I was a genuine participant. Rather, I was signposting intellectually vacuous platitudes that disrupted the flow of conversation and wasted everybody’s valuable in-class time. It revealed a superficial understanding of the text that would even make Sparknotes jealous.
Thus, my resolution: ‘interesting’ was interesting no more. This word no longer exists in my vocabulary.
Progress was slow. I initially hesitated, stammered, and stumbled. I was playing mental Minesweeper and blowing up every other time I spoke. However, I came out of this transitory phase more thoughtful and conscious of what my comments added to class discussions. This experience has been conducive to me being a better and more engaged student, and I highly recommend others to try this out.
Even now, I still catch myself speaking faster than I think and having awkward moments of silence. I’ve had instances in classes where I subconsciously defaulted to the forbidden word but forced myself to gather my thoughts before speaking. Nonetheless, this experience is lifelong, and I wholeheartedly believe that I’ve come out of this better than when I came in. But I will let my peers be my jury there.
* The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.