The Value of Doing Things That Don’t Matter

by Zoe M-W

The small liberal arts college from which I am about to graduate is famous for being the bloodiest of the bleeding hearts, the hipster mecca of America, a producer of musicians and artists likely to create a senior project that could be mistaken for the dregs of a garage sale. So, when I first toured the campus buildings I was shocked to find the plain and aging humanities classrooms in stark contrast to the glittering, modern science facilities. Even here, where students clamor to fulfill their math and science requirements with classes like “chemistry for photographers” and “secret codes”, the sciences were well-funded, catered-to, and touted. This American obsession with the harder disciplines is pervasive. Our society tells us that career tracks like medicine or law matter more than art or poetry. It also instills that any free time should probably be an occasion to spend money: off of work? Go get a drink with coworkers. Weekend? Shopping. If you’re not spending money you should be bettering yourself and the outward displays of your station in life: work out, power wash your fence. We are rarely encouraged to simply take a walk or sit with ourselves. In a society obsessed with the performative, actions done for ourselves are ascribed lesser importance.

I personally have struggled a great deal with this concept of “real” pursuits. As a poetry major who also studies ancient religious texts, I have lain awake many nights worrying that the fields to which I have devoted myself possess no concrete value. When I started participating in DGB, I would feel a momentary reward of completing my action only to listen to the latest news broadcast and sink into that despair that comes from sticking your neck out and still feeling completely invisible. But of the few academic lessons I remember from high school (sorry, teachers), one concept from AP environmental science has stayed with me: the tragedy of the the commons. The idea here is that everyone believes that they, as one person, are insignificant and their actions are irrelevant and this causes them to behave in ways that are wasteful and unsustainable. “I’m just one person, so if I eat more than my share there will still be plenty left”. True, but when everyone over-uses, we’re left with nothing. The seemingly humble belief that our actions don’t matter turns out to be an exceedingly self-centered viewpoint with devastating consequences.

Especially now, we have to believe that small things do matter and we have to believe that everything we do is real by virtue of us doing it. Things that have nothing to do with making or spending money can have value because they’re beautiful or quiet. We can do something that doesn’t make any sense just because it feels right. And we can take actions that feel small and know that somewhere out there another equally small person is doing the same, making our actions a little bit bigger. So vivan los wastes of time. Let’s do things that we’re told don’t matter. I think we’ll be surprised at how much they do.