Liberal Arts or The Art of Schmoozing – Social Skills in the Stacks

When I first arrived at Colgate, I thought the fact that we didn’t have a library was just about the coolest thing ever. I do gloat on occasion that I managed to get through my first four semesters of college without those glorious stacks. But since the new library opened, I have logged my fair share of library hours. Maybe my classes got harder, or maybe it finally dawned on me that dorm rooms were made for just about everything besides studying. In this breeding ground of slurred speech and quasi-coherent conversations we call Colgate, I have come to realize the library is one of the few places I wouldn’t be ashamed if my mom happened to listen in on the conversation.

The library remains a bastion of civility in a community known for its bacchanalian nature. But just like a five year old with his food at the dinner table, Colgate students like to keep their separate lives from touching. We don’t like to mix work and pleasure, except come Sunday morning when the “hair of the dog” is just about the only thing that can subdue our vexatious veisalgia. At 11 p.m. on a Friday night, you are probably equally as likely to find a student having an intellectual conversation as you are of finding a non pre-med in the library.

The library is, in a way, a charming reprise from the alcohol saturated pattern of interaction that we are so aptly acquainted with during our time at Colgate. Maybe it’s the plethora of knowledge found amongst the stacks of books, or maybe it’s because the bartender is replaced by a barista, but the library brings out the most intellectual side of the most casual social interactions.

More than once I’ve walked through the library Sunday afternoon and had conversations with friends who were making no more than garbled attempts at the English language 12 hours earlier. Usually fraternity parties aren’t a symposium to discuss the merits of 18th century French poetry. A fieldtrip to the Jug doesn’t lend itself well to the perfection of the Aristotelian ethical code. Achieving the “good life” requires no more than a Mary Special, a couple of lousy dance moves and a pretense for a good time. At Colgate, fun has replaced temperance as the fourth Cardinal Virtue.

However, the fact of the matter remains, that in most places not called Hamilton, it is necessary to function in social situations while simultaneously being coherent, intellectual and witty. So while the typical conversation at Colgate is latent with a particular toxic mix of chauvinistic idiosyncrasies, we are required to relate to others in intelligent and genuine ways in the world beyond. It’s true, people do talk about other stuff besides A-Rod’s steroid habits, Jagerbombs and last night’s debauchery.

I’d say of all the places we think of as social at Colgate, the library trumps just about nothing, yet within its stacks we acquire and perfect the ability to interact with others despite the lucid awareness of sobriety. The library is one of the few places where cerebral conversation isn’t met with pejorative disinterest. In fact, here at Colgate, the library may be the only social setting in which conversing with any morsel of intellectual insight isn’t hung with a hue of haughty pretentiousness.

When we converse socially in the library our intellect fuels curiosity, wit inspires laughter and the interaction of minds allows us to connect with one another. I am reluctant to admit that more than likely it is the social skills we pick up between the stacks rather than the skills we learn between drinks that will serve us best down the road. I am just glad all the procrastinating turned out to be so productive.