On Relating

A few years ago, we all hummed about a girl named Delilah, even though we didn’t know her. The song — “Hey There Delilah” — sounded more like a desperate Xanga post than a timeless musical piece. Lyrics like “Hey there Delilah/You be good and you don’t miss me/Two more years and you’ll be done with school/And I’ll be making history” are not nearly as universal — or striking — as, “I see skies of blue, clouds of white/Bright blessed days, dark sacred nights/And I think to myself: What a wonderful world.”

I say all this because, yesterday, I had my first thesis class and it set into motion all the insecurities I had about doing a thesis. And the biggest insecurity is what I call the “Hey There Delilah Syndrome.” I just made that up.

Anyway, HTDS is when you fear that what you have to say is too specific to yourself, or that it’s not universal enough, or too self-serving. I think the internet has exacerbated this syndrome, but not just because it lets us broadcast ourselves. It’s also because the internet has shined a light on the basic human need to share about ourselves, which isn’t a bad thing — until it scales up to a few billion Facebook updates saying the same thing. So we are hyper sensitive of over-sharing, which gives pieces like “Hey There Delilah” a bad name.

So HTDS is a scary thing as you approach a thesis project. On one hand, you have to do the thesis project, which means it will be inherently personal. But on the other hand, if other people don’t relate to it, then it’s a dud. Because a thesis isn’t just about figuring something out; it’s about answering the inevitable question: “Why should anyone else care?”

But people care about “Hey There Delilah” and they care about “Georgia On My Mind” and “Cecilia” and so many other songs that are so specific to a random girl who once captured a boy’s heart. And it’s because, so far as I can tell, they’re so honest, raw and poignant — and that makes them relatable. But at the same time, no one cares about Delilah or Georgia or Cecilia. They only care about what those archetypal ladies represent in their lives.

So question is: Do I want it to be relatable for people? Or related to people? There’s seems to be an elusive balance here somewhere.

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