You are who you associate with.
We differentiate people by profession, social class, ethnicity, religion, IQ and many other standard groupings. And we use these natural divisions to continuously navigate life situations.
Specifically in the recent election, there's been a concerted attempt to see shades of gray, to distinguish people from their chosen associations. Though noble, this effort diminishes the caution we should take when we affiliate with people, associations or causes.
Barack Obama's relationship with figures like Rashid Khalidi and Jimmy Carter may have lost him some Jewish votes. The supposedly nonpartisan media fought to reassert his image as an Israel advocate, insisting that we separate Obama from his friends and colleagues.
But how can we rationally base our judgment on fleeting campaign rhetoric while ignoring a person's deliberate interactions over a lifetime? That's a lot to ask, and it muddles our perceptions to a paralyzing degree.
Sure, we could all be certain people in a vacuum, but our social interactions ultimately define our personal image, and rightly so.
The election's over, but the point isn't moot. In fact, it's especially pertinent on college campuses, particularly in an uber-zealous and highly committed environment like Penn.
Roughly 25 percent of Penn students choose to affiliate with the Greek system. But I can't tell you how many times I've heard the following: "Yeah I'm part of it, but I'm so not a frat guy/sorority girl." Presumably, this means that the person disagrees with a lot of the premises of the institution but still wanted to go Greek.
What about personal accountability?
While I empathize with the plea for the benefit of the doubt, it's improbable to get the best of both worlds. Though many Greek members might be compatible with Penn students who chose not to affiliate and who share similar ideals, they are largely segregated because when in doubt, we categorize.
The same pattern can be applied to a host of other campus organizations. As a frequenter of Hillel, I am naturally classified as "really Jewish" and am consequently perceived to lead a relatively homogenous social life. I may spend three days a week with a plethora of non-Jewish multicultural friends, but I aligned myself with Hillel from week one. In doing so, I sealed my fate as a Hillelite.
College junior Mathan Glazer recognizes a similar phenomenon in another group I'm in, the Penn Israel Coalition.
"I had a conversation with an Arab who made untrue assumptions about my views on the conflict," he told me. "I'm not as blindly pro-Israel as a lot of its members purport to be … but I accept that I will be judged in the name of efficiency."
"You have these huge coalitions that become crude proxies for more individualistic views," he added.
Even back when we decided to matriculate here, we made a statement that we're motivated, smart and slightly neurotic. We bid good riddance to the cool, laid-back, apathetic image many of us cherished and a good portion of us still embody. Instead, we faced the fated judgment. Unfortunate? Perhaps. Inevitable? Definitely.
At this point, you think you understand my opinion and you've cognitively assessed my character to some extent. But what if I didn't want to be judged and therefore said: "I know I wrote this column, but just don't box me into this opinion or conclude that I'm a certain type of person, OK?" You'd want to hit me, and I would deserve it.
It's natural for us not to want to be judged, to plead for a little sympathy and understanding. But this is my plea - be cognizant of how your affiliations shape your public image. Let's accept this inevitable truth, if only to preserve our collective sanity.
Dani Wexler is a College sophomore from Los Angeles. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Wex Appeal appears every Friday.