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SHIEKH: Perspective key to opinion forming

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Column: From the Mountaintop

Part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as I understand and practice it, is balancing out one perspective within oneself. 

Because I am prone to fall into pits of deep, unshakeable focus on a single idea, CBT for me is working on my ability to exit the downward spiral of one thought process and see more than one perspective on an issue.

These are the main points that I use CBT to work on. It is useful in the short term for exiting the thought process. It is useful in the long-term for becoming better at exiting a thought process when I want to.

Recently I have begun to see a flaw in my work on these mental health issues. This flaw is simple: Exiting the thought process when I want to may mean that I do not see something useful in the idea my brain was presenting. 

Here is an example: In quelling my anxiety about my academics, this semester I have not been worrying about my GPA as much as I have for the past five years. As a result, I pay less attention in class, pay less attention to my assignments and discontinue the anxiety that arises to make me wonder whether my grades will be good enough to get me into medical school.

In this example, it is worth noting that the issue is one that I care deeply about. I have a career path which I care deeply about and am working toward constantly. In this instance, the anxiety that arises is somewhat justified. If I let my guard down, I can be left behind or I can fall down on a metric irreversibly which would bar me from the rest of my path.

Academic stress can get in the way of academic success. Instead of letting my anxiety rule me on this issue like I have historically, I have tried to diminish the anxiousness.

I overheard a student in one of my classes say they raised $350 for their fraternity. They also argued that their fraternity is a good fraternity and that it is not difficult to raise that much money. He said he received it from uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents.

My first response was to think that he was snobby, entitled and a jerk. I thought less of him, immediately. 

After a little thought, I decided that him being a member of a fraternity was not a mark against him. He is a member of a group of people that he clearly respects and is glad to be among. This, of course, is one of the most important and joyous parts of being alive. 

The second part of his story was about how easy it was to get his family to give him $350. He talked about how one person gave $50, another gave $50 and so on until he had his sum. 

“It’s not that much money really, but it adds up," he said. 

This, as a person who works for a paycheck, is offensive to my sensibilities. It would take approximately 25 hours for me to make that much money, only to turn around and give it to the fraternity rather than rent or food or gas or charity. In my mental accounting this is a waste of both time and money. 

But for him, this is part of being a member of his tribe. And he raised the money by asking, not by extortion or manipulation, as far as I know. His family decided to give him money that he asked for, which is not something that ought to lower my opinion of any party. They are prioritizing differently than I do, but that does not make them bad people. It just makes them unfamiliar. 

But having seen his side and thought about it for a while, I have come to a conclusion: It is still a waste of money. There is no earthly reason for a fraternity to need that much money for its member which makes sense to me. 

It is a lesson that I have to keep teaching myself. It is not a new lesson. It is a lesson that I have to renew when it comes time to form opinions and make decisions. 

“Give every man thy ear but few thy voice,” said William Shakespeare in "Hamlet." Sometimes there will be five valid opinions on a topic. Sometimes there will only be one. But in order to decide the validity of the opinion, it is essential to listen and understand. 

It is only after thinking the problem through that one can have an opinion worth sharing.

Mustafa Shiekh is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in public health. His column, "From the Mountaintop," runs on alternate Thursdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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