What Makes a Person “Cool”? (Being Subtle, Aware of Social Cues, and Having Something Exclusive)

I asked dozens of people in real life and on facebook in order to find the answer.

There are some things in life we recognize and encounter everyday, yet we don’t understand them.  For example, questions I constantly ask myself as I am writing each day are “is this funny?” and more importantly “is this interesting?” Both humor and being able to captivate a person’s attention are not really cut-and-dry, black-and-white issues, though I am definitely a cut-and-dry, black-and-white person.  It takes being very observant of social cues and even pop culture, at least in my experience, to make it work.  The difficulty and creativity in the search to be both funny and interesting is that both of those things are abstract, moving targets.

I am so overaware (it’s a made-up word but if I keep using it I think I can get it to catch on) and intrigued by marketing tools and methods.  For example, from now on, anytime you see an ad for a clock (not digital) or even just a new clock for sale in a store, you will be amazed at how many of the clocks show “10:10” as the time.  My guess is that “10:10” easily shows both arms of the clock and also it’s a time that many people are awake for both times each day, both morning and night.

Another interesting observation is how many African-American models wear purple in magazine ads and commercials on TV.  From JC Penny catalogs to The Princess and the Frog, purple is present.  Notice how few people of all other races were purple in ads.  I’m sure it’s because the color purple compliments darker skin tones much better than it does for lighter ones, and because purple is a color of royalty, which is a common theme in African-American culture- like the way bishops are often common in African-American churches.  And it may be stretching this concept, but the Disney movie The Lion King takes place in Africa, and as the title explains, it is a movie about a kingdom, even though it’s about animals instead of humans.

So keeping all these things in mind, I started thinking about an important and invisible factor in selling a product: being cool.  Apple computers are definitely cool, as is Steve Jobs who started and runs the company.  Is it because of those TV ads starring Justin Long, portraying PC’s as nerdy and Mac’s as hip?  I don’t think so.  Those ads just cleverly symbolized what many clued-in consumers were already aware of: Mac’s are cooler than PC’s.

Apple has always made their own rules, not being limited to the guidelines and expectations of other computer programs or even customers.  But they get away with it because Apple basically writes The Book of Cool when it comes to media technology: User-friendly computers that don’t really get viruses, iPods, iPhones, and iPads, all of which use a minimal number of buttons, and are so cool they don’t easily interact with other Apple products.

This being said, “coolness” is important in selling a product.  And that’s why marketing departments exist- to try and figure out, or at least convince people what is cool, so the product can be sold.  But the art of being cool doesn’t just apply to big companies and marketing teams, it also matters to us as individuals.  People are often drawn to other people who they think are cool; therefore being cool yourself may in turn attract other cool people.  I mean, some people are fine with regularly attending Star Wars conventions or sharing a house with 8 cats all named after cupcake flavors.  But just as that “uncool” example shows, even if we truly don’t care what other people think about us, being cool is definitely better than being uncool, if given the choice.

So what makes a person “cool”?  I’ve asked dozens of people both in real life and on facebook to find out the answer.  There were mainly just a few different answers, some being gender specific, some not:  Some males answered “money and material possessions” while some females answered “appearance and clothing”.  But the most reoccurring answer I received was “being confident to the point that the person truly doesn’t care about what other people think or say about them”.  Another similar answer that resonated well with me was “a cool person has something you don’t, even if it’s just confidence”.

Interestingly, the age of the people I asked made no difference to the kind of answer I got.  Not only do older people think that “confidence” defines being cool, but I also realized that being young isn’t a requirement in order to be cool.  I can think of three musicians who I’ve listened to my entire life who are still making music and for whom I’m still buying their albums and happen to all be currently right around 60 years old: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Phil Collins. Age has nothing to do with being cool.  If anything, being young is a major disadvantage in being cool, since life experience is lacking.  Most teenagers only think they know what is cool, but many of them are trying so hard to be cool that they are not- which brings me to the first Rule of Being Cool.

The Rules of Being Cool

1) If you realize or acknowledge that you are cool, you either never were cool or are now no longer cool. Like John Mayer.  I will always love his music, but I refuse to think he’s cool anymore.  By the time he publicly started dating celebrities then disrespecting them later in magazines while making an arse of himself with prideful comments and talking about how much money he makes, it became official: John Mayer is aware that he’s cool, which officially disqualifies him for being cool.  I can’t totally discredit the guy, after all, he did pen the song “83” (I’ve been obsessed with the year 1983, since 1995) and it was one of his concerts that transformed a friendship into a dating relationship into a marriage into a family (the first date my wife and I went on was a John Mayer concert).  But John Mayer is officially disqualified from being cool.

2) You must be aware of social cues, but not become ruled by the expectations of other people. Obviously if a person doesn’t care whatsoever what people think, he could be rude, selfish, and only shower once a week.  But it takes more than not caring what people think and participating in personal hygiene, it takes being aware of the social expectations that actually matter: Like being friendly, positive, and simply passionate about things that are important, while not being self-centered, vain, or overly aggressive. Why?  Because a person who has these attributes I just listed in italics is a confident person.  When I meet a person who is constantly being negative and is generally condescending to others, I see a person who is unhappy, unfulfilled and desperate to find confidence; needless to say, that’s not a cool person.

3) You must have something that others inspire to have. Whether it’s wit, aggressiveness, style, a high income level, or personal character, just to name a few examples, we use other people as models for our lives.  Yes, being cool depends on who you ask, since it’s largely based on perception.  Yet still, confidence can always be found as the foundation of coolness.

And that’s it.  That’s how I define what makes a person cool.  From Zack Morris in the fictional world, to my own family and friends in the real world, I am blessed to know cool people.  Just as iron sharpens iron, so do cool people enhance each other’s coolness. Therefore, be cool to one another.


Unnecessary Bonus…

Ethnic Backgrounds of Celebrities Mentioned in This Post:

Steve Jobs (half Syrian, half English)

Justin Long (half Polish, Sicilian, English)

Phil Collins (English, Irish)

Bruce Springsteen (50% Italian, 37% Irish, 13% Dutch)

Tom Petty (English, 1/4 Native American Indian)

Henry Winkler as “The Fonz” (Jewish)

John Mayer (half Jewish, half German)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar (half Indonesian, half Dutch)






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Swiss Army SUV (Nick Shell’s Turtle Shell): 2004 Honda Element

If I was an action figure, what would my accessories be?

My wife always goes to sleep before me.  Sometimes, when she’s lucky, I sing her a lullaby to help her transition into dream mode, to coax her into visions of happy clouds and riding unicorns.  Of course, I only serenade her with original songs that I sing as I compose them, on the spot.  Last week, with Avatar fresh on my mind, I sang to her in my finest Styx performing Mr. Roboto voice:

“Nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life

So put on your purple jump suit and watch a pterodactyl fly by

Because nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life”

Pause.

Then she asked, “How can I prepare for the unicorn ride when you just said nothing could ever prepare me?”

She made a good point.  The only disadvantage of having the ability to make up and sing Grammy award winning songs on the spot, is that sometimes I forget the lyrics I’ve already sang earlier in the same song.

Ironically, I was the one who wasn’t prepared.  As for the rest of the time, in everyday life, I am prepared.  Because from 1st grade to 5th grade, I was in Cub Scouts and one of our main mottos was Be Prepared”.  Evidently, that has become a law of life for me.

Take my car, for example:

Honda Elements have been compared to a lot of things: a boot, a shoe, a toaster, a box.  And I’m okay with that, because after 4 ½ years of owning one, I am still in love.  And when the day comes to get a new vehicle, my plan is to simply buy another Honda Element.

I have transformed my already versatile duckbill-platypus-like SUV into the vehicular equivalent of a Swiss army knife.  It’s time to take a tour of my Honda Element and see what I keep on hand at all times, just in case I need it…

Typically I keep one backseat always folded up so I can have my mountain bike with me.  It stays secured between the wall and other seat.  The blue t-shirt helps prevent scuff marks on my seat from the bike and doubles as an emergency back-up shirt.

The way I got that shirt was way back in the summer of 1998 when I went on a mission trip to Ecuador.  One of the old t-shirts I had packed for the trip was one that I got from a church youth conference from the summer of 1993.  It was a white t-shirt with the phrase “JESUS IS FOR NOW” on it.  And that’s all it said.  (In Junior High, my classmate Scott Rothell joked with me: “Jesus is for now; Satan is for later”.  He was a funny guy.)

So when I was in Ecuador, a guy my age (17 at the time) saw me wearing the “Jesus is for now” t-shirt and said he liked it so much that he wanted it.  Because I have developed a friendship with him that week doing skits in city squares and painting schools, I negotiated a t-shirt trade.

He let me look through the old t-shirts he brought along, and the blue one was the one I chose: “Con Amor de Tennessee a Temuco, Chile” (With love from Tennessee to Temuco, Chile”.  Which was the official t-shirt my friend got from a previous mission trip.  It remains a comfortable t-shirt after the 12 years of me owning it.

Behind my passenger seats is where I keep my helmet.  In the cubbies on the sides, I have an old atlas I stole from work, a bandana (for days I don’t feel like wearing a hat but want to cover my head- works well in sweaty or rainy situations).

This is also where I keep my bike maintenance tools and restaurant coupons (which I’ve made several copies of on a color copier so I can reuse them).  As well as flyers for selling my house.  And an atlas in case my GPS stops working.  And windshield defroster spray.  Plus a back-up t-shirt just in case…

In the backseat that is not folded up I keep a black fedora.  Because this kind of hat will instantly make me look classier if need be, even if I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  Plus an old baseball cap I got in 11th grade (1997), as well as a new stylish hat that my mother-in-law mailed me on my birthday.  The right hat for the right situation is key to being a model citizen.

Underneath the seat I keep my Birkenstocks (Christmas present from my parents in 1999).  They make the perfect back-up shoes in case I’m wearing nice shoes and it starts to rain.  In the rear side doors, I keep two books at all times.  Just in case I need to kill some time.  One is about speed reading, the other is about “reading people”.

In between the two front seats, I keep some musk incense I bought at an Indian grocery store, to help keeping my Element smelling like a forest.  I received the toothpaste and toothbrush from my most recent dentist visit- always good to keep around.  And of course it is vital to always have nail clippers handy.

The plastic cup remains empty.  Maybe I’ll end up in a place where there’s water but nothing to put it in.  Then the cup saves the day.

I put Velcro on the back of my iPod (with an FM radio receiver so I can listen to it through my stereo speakers) and my steering wheel so it’s always right in front of me.

In the hidden cubby next to my steering wheel, I keep a few spare wedding rings (made out of hemp) just in case I ever forget to wear my actual one.  Next to some papaya supplements to aid indigestion (for my pregnant wife).

Up in the front passenger dashboard caddy, I keep sugar-free gum, business cards (mainly so I can write my website on them to give to people I meet who after talking to me, are curious about my website).  And a bendable Pink Panther- just because he is awesome.  He is my animal cartoon role model.

There are also some pictures from my wife and I from exactly a year ago when we met her aunt in Chattanooga.  The felt letters say “amp” but they used to say “camp”.  But the “c” fell off and I never found it.  I just wanted to enhance the “camp” theme of my car.

Lastly, in the passenger seat of my Element, I keep my Gap one-strap bookbag.  Inside are my laptop, earphones, camera, Bible, and whatever the main current book is that I’m reading at the time.  I usually bring the bookbag with me when I take my mountain bike for a ride so I can be prepared to entertain myself if I need a break.

With the exception of my TV and my Wii and guitar and my clothes which are in the house, the things I keep in my Element are my earthly possessions.  My Element is like an overnight bag.  Like a turtle’s shell.  My action figure’s accessories.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on Honda Elements, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one