When all you listen to is rap, rock and roll just doesn’t taste right. We develop preferences, patterns, and tastes for certain kinds of music, art, and people. This is natural and it is not problematic in the slightest. However, if one adheres so strictly to their preferences, they may never realize that there is more to probe than just their own cup of tea.
During my freshman year of college, I met an unlikely friend. Al and I were both political science students, but that seemed to be where the similarities abruptly ended. He was laid back and felt that an obsession with schoolwork shouldn’t interfere with an enjoyable undergraduate life. I was singularly obsessed with securing a high GPA in order to transfer to an accredited university. He seemed in sync with obscure meme culture, while I read the full news section of the New York Times on a daily basis, bringing that information to class discussions.
We became acquaintances through our school’s Model United Nations (MUN) program, but during my first semester in the club together we were merely school friends among a whole team of friends. In my second semester, he and I, by chance, both took a Middle East politics class. I sat in the front, answering so many questions that I gained a reputation in the class as the one who would bail everyone else out if they didn’t read the day’s material. Meanwhile, Al sat as far back as he could, discreetly playing computer games or outright sleeping at times.
I had built a great many assumptions about Al based on what I saw. To be clear, I always liked him as a person, but I did hold some negative assumptions. His less-than-enthusiastic attitude towards school led me to assume that he was not particularly gifted intellectually. The lack of political opinions he voiced made me believe that he was both disengaged and uninformed politically. All in all, I thought he was an uninteresting person without much to say about the topics I cared most about.
In these assumptions, I was dead wrong. I was more wrong than I have ever been about anything, and I learned this on a spring day of 2017. I had just learned that Al was interested in history, and he told me he could teach me some of the basics about World War 1, one of the historical periods that most fascinated him.
I invited him to come to my house, and he sat down with me and opened a blank, entirely unlabeled map of the world. He proceeded for two hours to point out locations and offer the most precise details about what had occurred 100 years prior. Within two years, I would be studying World War 1 directly under David Stevenson, one of the most respected historians of the conflict in the world.
In addition to a blossoming love and appreciation of history, Al gave me something else that is now at the center of my life. He introduced me to Led Zeppelin, which was the first of a thousand dominos, leading me to a deep love for The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and of course, Led Zeppelin. I have become such an insufferable fanboy that I now have over a dozen band t-shirts in my closet.
None of this is to say that Al and I are anywhere near perfectly synchronized. While our intuitions are similar on some topics, we have quite different philosophies of life. I would argue that even now, we differ in as many ways as we converge. He won’t shut up about his vague anarcho-monarchist political views, but he also won’t explain them (I deeply doubt his sincerity on the topic). He and I are quite temperamentally different, and it shows. However, our differences almost never bother one another.