As the school year begins I can’t help thinking about cool and the deep desire of just about everyone to be popular. Underneath the desire is the innate human longing for acceptance and approval; to be a part of community—and this isn’t bad. The problem comes when we prioritize becoming cool over just about everything else.
For this reason I have compiled a list of 5 reasons why cool should not have priority in our lives…
1. Cool is fleeting. Can you believe that this look was ever cool?
Or that these slick-haired, booty-shorts wearing boys used to rule the school?
Or that these mmmbop-in’ brothers once captured the hearts of teenage girls around the country (pretty impressive considering they look like teenage girls themselves)?
But before you laugh too hard, you should know that no matter how in-style you think you are at this very moment, in a few years you will look back at pictures of yourself and shake your head in embarrassment.
The truth is, cool changes. In fact, cool is so incredibly temporary that whatever is cool today might very well be laughable tomorrow. This means that investing too much in cool is as foolish as building your house on a fault line. Cool changes far too often to make a good foundation.
2. Cool is not fun. I think most people would agree that their most miserable years (often middle or early high school) were those spent running after cool. Put simply, obsessing over the desire to be liked can be stressful and even downright destructive. There is nothing enjoyable about the sick, panicky feeling in your stomach as you wonder what other people are thinking about you. Wouldn’t it be so much better if you let your guard down and were able to relax a little? Those wise and confident enough to stop caring about what others think are nearly always the ones who have the most fun, build the most genuine friendships, and have the least regrets.
3. Cool is uncool. The great irony of cool is that it isn’t. Cool is paradoxical in the sense that those who want it most will never achieve it, and those who simply don’t care are the first to earn the approval of their peers. At work, at school, and at play, human beings are drawn to those with confidence, conviction, and compassion. Not those who are trying to be cool. You might be jealous of “the cool people”, or maybe even afraid of those on the top of the social ladder, but deep down, no one really respects those who have only achieved a mere surface-level coolness. The truly respected ones are those who have prioritized more important things over their desire to fit in. Example: One of my best friends Ron Radcliffe came to college with a fanny pack full of Pokémon cards and a collection of homemade swords…and within no time became one of the most well-known and well-liked people on campus. Why? Because Ron is man of confidence, conviction, and compassion, and people always eventually gravitate to character.
4. Cool is almost always hierarchical. In other words, in places where cool is the currency, there are varying degrees of rich and poor. There are those who are cool and those who are…not so cool. This is how it works. For someone to be “in”, others have to be “out.” Unfortunately, when you have so many people trying desperately to ascend the social ladder, people are inevitably going to be stepped on. This is one of the reasons why bullying is such a serious problem in schools across the country. However, as followers of Jesus we are called to a different pursuit. In fact, Jesus flipped the ladder upside down when he spoke to social outcasts, when he touched lepers, when he refused to turn children away, when he ate with tax collectors, and when he washed his disciples’ feet. This is the pattern we’re called to carry on.
5. Cool gets in the way. In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul writes, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Clearly, there are times in our lives when we have to choose what and whom we’re living for, and so often, cool and Christ are calling us in two very different directions. I can think of several times in high school alone in which I was clearly aware of Jesus’ leading to befriend the friendless, or to speak against gossip, or to hold my tongue when tempted to say something funny but potentially hurtful, but why did I often resist? Because cool was telling me to look out for myself. This, I think, is the most fundamental difference between the call of cool and the call of Christ: one is primarily about self, and the other is primarily about self-denial. And yet, only one of these paths leads to authentic, free, meaningful life.
It’s time we considered a new definition of cool as we think about what really has value, importance, and precedence in our lives. What needs to take priority? What really matters? These are the things that do not change from day to day, the things that satisfy and build character, the things that consider others as valuable as ourselves, and the things that allow us to love with the love we’ve been given.
These are the things worth running after.