Accepting Others: What is “Cool?”

My 11 year old son is very insightful and thoughtful. The other day he informed me that he is “not cool” and therefore could not participate in the talent show event at his elementary school. I asked him how he knew he wasn’t “cool.” He answered that “everyone knows who is cool and who is not, mom.”

It’s interesting how we assume that others can tell us what’s right and what’s wrong – and that there is a common definition of what traits are “good” and what are not. When I really pushed him to “define cool,” he couldn’t do it. He just knows that other kids don’t like certain things about him, and he isn’t in the “in group.”

It brought up a great issue for me to discuss in this week’s blog – our common acceptance of what other people think. It’s not an uncommon experience, even for us adults, to have someone else define “cool” for us. It could be the types of clothes we wear, the car we drive, the school we send our children to or the restaurant we choose to dine in on Friday night.

When I was writing my book, Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets To Human Behavior, I was struck one day by the conversation between a couple of the moms in my neighborhood as we stood at the bus one day. “Can you believe she chose that color for her new roof? What was she thinking,” asked one. “That’s her. She has no taste at all,” said the other. I guess the person they were talking about simply did not choose to do what was “cool” and as a result she was (probably unknowingly) ostracized by her neighbors for her roof color.

Another thing to think about is that we often feel it’s “uncool,” if we are the one someone is gossiping with, to say “But I like that person. I don’t want to talk about them.” If we do choose not to engage in the gossip, or present an alternative dissenting opinion, then we feel like we aren’t “in.” And, if we aren’t in, then we are not going to be liked. So, even as we age and get into adulthood, we still endeavor to be the cool ones!

One time when my daughter was in the fifth grade and I was volunteering at her class, she begged me to “wear jeans like all of the other moms do” because I would often have to go into school in my work clothes, or wearing my favorite sweatpants. I didn’t even own a pair of jeans. It was distressing to me how much she cared about my appearance and how much she needed me to fit in and be “cool”. Kids feel the pressure and it extends to the adults.

This week, think about whether you are defining “cool” for someone else. If you are, consider dropping the need to define anything at all – if you can do this, you’ll find out what it really means to be “cool!”