Take Two #59: Carpe Diem

By Kyra-lin Hom

This week I'm going to explicitly go against the wishes of a friend and infect the Northwest with a bit of Los Angeles slang. It all started when I first heard the term “jelly” used as an abbreviation for “jealous.” I personally thought – and still think – that it can be adorable. Little did I know that jelly comes tied to another infamous slang term. My LA friend was very quick to sort me out. She in fact swore to invent instant teleportation just so she could instantly reprimand me if this term ever left my mouth. Curious yet? Careful now, this is a doozy. The term is “yolo.”

Sounds harmless, right? Actually it probably sounds like nonsense to you. It did to me too. So what's the big deal? Yolo stands for the phrase “you only live once.” According to urban dictionary, it equates the moron's version of “carpe diem.” Yolo has become the new excuse for stupid behavior, especially in teens, and is usually followed a few hours or so later by the word “oops.” (Oddly enough, oops is also in the urban dictionary.)

If you ever hear someone use this word, the recommended comeback is the turn of phrase, “you obviously lack originality.” This bit of cleverness makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Then I recommend you find out what was done to warrant their use of the universal justification of dumb things because I promise there will be something.

For as long as there have been children, there have been rebellious streaks. It's human nature. No, really. Commonly referred to as the 'CEO of the brain,' the prefrontal cortex located in the human brain's frontal lobe is what regulates behavior. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for much of the thought processes that make us human. It indulges in abstract thought and cognitively observes and analyzes the world around us. It not only draws rational conclusions from those observations but also determines how we act in response. Without it, we couldn't weigh pros and cons or act appropriately in social situations. And that oh-so important driver doesn't fully develop in most of us until sometime around age 25. This isn't to say that younger people can't make good decisions. It just means that it is much easier for them (okay, us) to make bad ones.

The problem I have with yolo and the attitude it implies is that it rescinds any responsibility for the resulting consequences. Carpe diem is about seizing opportunity, pushing forward and taking advantage of the openings life places in front of you before they can be whisked away. Yolo on the other hand is all about following impulses. It's about doing something for the thrill and instant gratification without weighing the consequences because hey, yolo! It is a very, very dumb way to live.

That's not to say I didn't do dumb things as a teenager. I'd like to think that I employed more common sense than is generally attributed to that demographic, but I have no idea if I actually did. Based on discussions and happenstances in college, I'd say I probably fell just shy of the middle. Going on 24 this week (happy birthday to me!) I have noticed my severely responsible side gaining a firmer hold. I don't regret anything I did really – everything is rosier in retrospect – but there are some memories that make me cringe, some choices I made that I wouldn't even consider making now.

We can fool ourselves. I remember how making certain irresponsible decisions made me feel more in control and more adult. By not doing what my parents would have wanted I felt like I was actively making a decision by and for myself. It was a very seductive feeling and hard enough to resist without mentalities like yolo egging me on. At least then it was just teen angst and a streak of rebellious independence. I knew I was making bad decisions but chose to go through with them anyway. I wasn't choosing a lifestyle or justifying myself with pseudo-existential philosophy.

I am very much a supporter of giving kids and young adults enough leash to make some of their own mistakes. But in exchange – addressing the other young adults out there – let's not make rash behavior a self-righteous act. You only live once. So don't screw it up.

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