Recover “cool” before it loses its power


It’s not beyond saving, the word “cool.” But look around. It’s sure losing its power to do good. And it’s so widely misused.

Not-so-cool uses of “cool”

  • Thoughtless “cool:” Sun-starved males reveling in the latest violent point-of-view shooter video game. The bad guy explodes, they yell “cool.”
  • Copout cool: A friend says, “Sure I text while I drive – everybody does, I just keep my phone where I still see the road.” You know that attitude kills people, but you say, “cool.” Assent subs for assertiveness.
  • Brushoff cool: A teacher or parent makes a valid point; a could-care-less student or kid replies “cool.” It doesn’t commit them to anything.
  • “Conformist cool” and “envious cool”: These kissing cousins conjure an image of the “cool kids” in high school. Except, they most often weren’t or aren’t. So let’s skip the pecking-order angst and envy.
  • “Cool” straying from its roots: “It’d be so cool to have that [insert any “cool” product here: car/clothes/jewelry/handbag/shoes…] You can’t satisfy an appetite with nothing but sugar. Coveting is that appetite and it ain’t cool.

Nothing’s cooler than the roots of genuine cool

It’s time to reclaim “cool.” It used to be a counter-culture code word. It was coined by people who earned their cool – they didn’t buy it. In fact, they paid a personal price. By choosing sides in great debates and social shifts, they took a stand. They knew what they aspired to be personally – and were part of collectively. They rejected the established order of things. Authorities were always trying to catch them in something subversive.

Some of those original users knew the Beatitudes (a cool speech about a spiritual cool). Others didn’t, but had that same attitude. They figured out that weakness was strength. That meekness could stop steel in its scabbard. Love and kindness, sacrifice and commitment: they’re soft power. Healing a bruised life or changing a broken world for good starts with their salve on the wound.

Our cool forbears were not idle. They didn’t occupy coffee shops, clucking over their newsfeeds. They occupied campuses and marched. They fought with non-violence and made non-materialistic choices. They were engaged, idealistic, committed, other-directed and real. In other words, cool.

Hey, I’m not trying to romanticize Hippies. Or the jazz players, poets and beatniks who were cool before them. Or any wandering minstrels before them. Or a dusty-footed teacher and his disciples long before them. I just want to restore “cool” as a word that matters.

What restoring “cool” looks like for you

Let’s start with what wasn’t, isn’t and never will be cool: Exploitation. Violence. Meanness. Emotional distance (coldness is just coldness, cowboys). Greed. Selfishness. Cynicism. Despair.

We can choose better than the shadows of cool, or shallow uses, bulleted above. Why be inarticulate? Be expressive. Why conform? You’re unique. Why buy stuff that may apply a thin veneer of “cool” for a time, when what you want is self-worth and acceptance. Sorry, they’re not for sale.

Instead, make experiences or art, contribute and connect. People will find what you do – and you – cool. It used to work that way. It still does. It can for you.

So let’s commit to genuine cool. Today. Tweet about it. Share my posting. The ways we can engage on “cool” are themselves pretty cool.

And we might just recover a word. We might become cool about living in our skin. And we might change our little sliver of the world.

It would be so cool.

facebook icon Recover “cool” before it loses its power.

Will you help restore “cool” to its loving, idealistic and counter-cultural roots?

twitter icon Help reclaim “cool” before the word loses its power to do good. Commit to genuine cool. #CoolAsIt’sMeant2B


Revisit cool in all its former courage and its excess in this documentary about the Sixties:


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