Sunday, December 2, 2012

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress #18: Doppelgangers

In this column, I attempted to illustrate the difficulty of self-definition in the law school and job search context.  While I feared a backlash from this piece, fortunately there was none.  It would be quite easy for people to make fun of me on the basis of the idea that I am incapable of remembering names because people's appearances tend to blend together in this atmosphere.  However, perhaps a general sense of agreement with the ideas herein are present: in certain instances, it is simply better to avoid social contact than to invite social awkwardness.  In general it is better to be a social person - I think most people will agree with that - but there is a danger of being too social, as well, that may tend to rub people the wrong way.  Everybody knows that time is at a premium, and that sensitivity to wasting another person's time is useful in the development of social tact.  Regardless, the column is simply about my desire to allow people to "be themselves."

NIED #18: Doppelgangers

                One of my least favorite things about law school is seeing people that I know, but not being able to say hi to them because it’s weird since we have not both formally acknowledged that we know each other’s first names.  Even worse is when someone says hi to me and I have absolutely no idea who they are, but I want to be polite, so I say hi back, but don’t say their name, and then worry about whether or not they know that I don’t know their name.  Some might say this is a trivial matter, but I believe that Doppelgangers present a strong case for a claim for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress. 
                In the first place, these Doppelgangers—they owe me no duty to make me feel better about myself.  So the claim fails.  However, I do not intend for every NIED column to present a colorable claim—I merely intend to contribute a voice of reason into this sea of Sameness.
                My friend dyed my hair blonde last year.  A couple weeks after that, I set up an interview for a judicial internship with a bankruptcy judge nearby.  My counselor told me that I needed to dye my hair back.  Another counselor indicated that it would not be a good idea to go to the PILC Fair with the blonde. 
                I also started my internship that semester with the blonde, and when I dyed it back, my supervising attorney thought it had been my natural color.  His wife, ironically, told me that she met Andy Warhol at a party in the early 1980s.  They had both approved of my hair.
                While blonde, I came upon a brilliant realization: I could never dye it back.  It would make me stand out.  Of course, others might say it would make me stick out like a sore thumb.
                I told people that I needed to be “diverse” somehow.  I told people that it was some kind of impossible form of discrimination to judge my intelligence on the basis of my hair color—but of course, hair color is not immutable.  This much is certain, however: people knew who I was.  I was “that blonde kid” and subject to whatever criticisms or praise that appellation entailed.  I was immediately identifiable.  Then I dyed it back to brown and I receded back into the ooze of professional appearances and anonymity.   
                Many people at this school (and I would imagine every single other law school) look exactly the same (but to qualify this statement, let me specify that BLS students probably do not look like UVM Law students).  And it is very annoying for me.  How am I supposed to know who you are if you look like five other people?  I might recognize your voice?  What if there is just that awkward moment of eye contact without any kind of wave or similar friendly gesture?  Then I go into the library and keep my head down—I do not want to see anyone anymore.  Blindness is preferable to any display of social awkwardness.  The blind cannot be faulted for their condition, but I can be faulted for not making an effort to know everyone’s name and for not being able to tell them apart from a distance when, perhaps I am not even wearing my glasses.  It is absurd. 
                My advice is contrary to what the Career Services Office will tell you, but I seriously believe that law school will suck the vitality out of you and turn you into a sheep if you let it.  So, do not cut your hair.  Do not dye it back to its original color.  Keep reading the Communist Manifesto.  Maintain your pre-law school hobbies to the extent practicable.  Read for pleasure.  Use your real name on facebook instead of trying to hide.  Keep at your blog. 
If you have ideas, share them.  If you don’t really care very much about your individuality, then I guess you won’t be offended the next time I look away.  But if you feel like law school is preventing you from being the person you want to be, I suggest you go into court one day.  There are always crazy lawyers with fantastic suits and bizarre piercings and atypical hairstyles.  People might say you shouldn’t look like that if you want to get hired—but I seriously doubt the judge will rule against you because of it. 

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