Don’t you hate it when you ask someone how old they are, and they think it’s coy or cute or something to give you a non-answer? Or when you ask, “Where did you go to college?” and they say something weird and indirect that doesn't answer the question, like, “Northern California” or “in Boston." You know. Instead of the truth: “Stanford,” or “Harvard?”
People do this because they think they’re being “modest.” But actually, they’re being condescending little pricks.
First of all, it violates the most basic tenents of human communication. According to psycholinguist Paul Grice, conversation is supposed to be cooperative. Unconsciously, we all follow a basic set of rules, or maxims. Among them:
"In Boston" is, quite simply, uncooperative communication, because it violates the maxims of quality and manner.
Second, let’s give a literal translation of “Northern California”/”in Boston.” You think it means you’re being modest. But what you’re really saying is:
That’s pretty condescending, dude. Going to Stanford doesn’t mean you got a good education, and going to a state school doesn’t mean you didn’t.
Moreover, most adults aren’t still hung up on college rankings. Hopefully by now they have accomplishments other than getting a fat envelope when they were 17.
That’s why I never tell people I went to college in Northern California. And when people ask where I went to high school, I tell them the truth: “I went to Phillips Exeter. It’s a boarding school about an hour north of Boston.”
But, honestly, it’s not just about respecting the people I’m talking to. It’s also about respecting myself. Exeter was an amazing experience for me. I got to use a scanning electron microscope, just 'cause whatever. Between my undergraduate and graduate research, overseas study experiences, and the friendships I formed, Stanford was a defining part of who I’ve become. Why would I ever try to hide or erase that part of myself?
And! Saying where you went to school is a conversation enhancer. Dodging and naming some city/region is a conversation stifler. When I say, “Stanford,” people follow up with, “Oh, cool! Did you know So-and-So? He went to my high school!” or, “Whoa – isn’t that where they did the Prison Experiment?” Next thing we know, we’re talking about Dr. Zimbardo’s latest book or messaging someone we haven’t thought about in a while.
Meanwhile, if you say, “Northern California,” what’s the other person’s response? They know you’re being indirect. That doesn’t feel good. I guess they can be like, “Cool.” But… it still feels weird.
And, sure. I suppose there’s a tiny chance that the person you’re talking to will truly be "triggered" when you say the S-word or the H-word. But you know what? Those people are probably not worth your time. Do you really have the bandwidth to constantly prop up someone else's ego? Do you really want to be friends with someone who requires you to censor yourself? If you can’t even say the name of your school in front of them… maybe you should find someone else to talk to.
Tl;Dr – When you don’t say the name of your school because you think your school is sooooooo wonderful that it’s going to evoke insecurity and jealousy from those you’re talking to… you’re being arrogant, not modest.
People aren’t going to crumble to pieces if you went to a “better” school than they did.
And if they do, they should be talking to their therapist -- not you.
And you shouldn't have to hide or erase a part of your life or identity.
Now go be true to yourself.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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