Good Vibes Only?

Food for Thought

New Yorkers with “Good Vibes Only” emblazoned across their chests to deter others from bothering them, paradoxically, don’t seem to radiate those very vibes. These are the same types fixated on dodging so-called “toxic” personalities. What’s intriguing is not just the irony but the repressed aggression, an implicit judgment of every passerby.

In the music theory class I took at the Juilliard School, I recall a particular student—a prodigy in absolute pitch. He could name any random notes the teacher played on the piano. One day, while studying the music of Béla Bartók, he confessed that the music beyond the Baroque period was insufferable because of the introduction of dissonances. He was visibly disturbed by Bartók’s music.

Such biases aren’t limited to auditory realms. I love sweets but in combination with bitter or sour. Bitterness, much like musical dissonance, is an acquired taste. Young palates are evolutionarily hardwired to embrace sweetness while being wary of bitterness—a survival instinct, some argue. Some adults don’t acquire this taste and still avoid bitter foods.

We humans naturally recalibrate our senses to any spectrum, good to bad, consonant to dissonant, sweet to bitter, or beautiful to ugly. Imagine a world purged of ugly people. Soon, the least beautiful among the remaining would be branded the new “ugly.” So, ultimately, it’s impossible to have only beautiful people.

Likewise, your attempt to eliminate “bad vibes” will only lead to a narrowing of the emotional spectrum, within which you will still encounter bad vibes. If you continue down this path, you will eventually paint yourself into a corner. Life is full of possibilities precisely because it offers a broad range. “Good vibes only” is a regressive and pessimistic way to live.

My wife has a mother preoccupied with good vibes and a father glowing with bad vibes. Thanks to them, she came out bittersweet, my most cherished flavor.