Cracking the Coolness Code:
The Art of Staying Real!
Whenever someone mentions the word ‘cool’, the immediate images that might come to mind are James Dean leaning against a car, a jazz musician blowing his sax in a dimly lit club, or maybe that friend who always seems to know the latest trends. But what does it mean to be ‘cool’? Where did this concept come from? Let’s dive in.
Defining the Indefinable: What is Cool?
At its core, being ‘cool’ is an attitude. It’s a calm demeanor, an unspoken confidence, and a sense of authenticity. Coolness isn’t about following the herd; it’s about being true to oneself, even if it goes against the norm. The term originates in African American jazz culture of the 1940s and is used to describe a specific subdued mood or style. But the essence of what cool represents has been around for much longer.
Coolness Across the Ages
In his article “Birth of Cool”, Mike Vuolo traces the lineage of ‘cool’. It’s not just about leather jackets or sunglasses; it’s an ethos. African griots (storytellers) were the epitome of cool, maintaining calm and poise as they relayed stories. Fast forward to today, and ‘cool’ might mean someone with the latest gadgets or listening to underground bands on vinyl. The medium changes, but the essence remains.
Case Studies in Coolness
To better understand coolness, let’s break down various situations and witness coolness in action:
- The Classroom Scenario: Imagine two students: Student A answers every question, always has their hand up and follows the rules to a T. Student B listens intently, answers when they know, and isn’t afraid to question the teacher. While Student A may be the teacher’s pet, Student B exudes a quiet coolness, demonstrating confidence and curiosity.
- At the Coffee Shop: Person A orders the most complicated drink on the menu, showcasing their intricate knowledge about coffee blends. Person B walks in, orders a simple black coffee, and enjoys it while reading a book. While Person A might be a coffee connoisseur, Person B’s unassuming nature and contentment with simplicity oozes coolness.
- In Fashion: Individual A wears all the latest trends, changing their style with every season. Individual B has a timeless style, wearing what feels good and not necessarily what’s ‘in’. While Individual A is fashion-forward, Individual B’s commitment to their unique style is undeniably cool.
- The Tech World: Techie A always has the latest gadgets and constantly discusses the newest tech trends. Techie B, however, uses older technology but knows how to utilize it to its fullest potential, often creating new solutions with limited resources. Techie A might be on the cutting edge, but Techie B’s innovative spirit is the epitome of tech cool.
- Music: Listener A is all about the Top 40, always jamming to the latest hits. Listener B is eclectic, enjoying everything from 80s synth-pop to Mongolian throat singing. While Listener A is contemporary, Listener B’s vast musical palette is a journey of coolness.
The Subjectivity of Cool
As we’ve seen, coolness isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept. What’s cool to one person might be mundane or even uncool to another. It’s subjective and tied closely to individual cultures, personal preferences, and historical contexts. The jazz-loving beatniks of the 50s, the rock ‘n’ roll rebels of the 60s, and the grunge icons of the 90s—all were cool in their own right, in their own time.
Embracing Your Own Cool: Icons of Authenticity
The allure of coolness doesn’t necessarily come from always having the answers or never showing vulnerability. Instead, it often originates from an individual’s ability to remain authentic, even under pressure. It’s about exuding a calm assurance in one’s own skin, regardless of external opinions or situations. Let’s delve deeper by looking at three public figures who encapsulated this essence, reminding us why staying true to oneself is the very crux of cool.
1. Nelson Mandela
Cool under pressure? Absolutely. Mandela spent 27 years in prison, advocating against apartheid in South Africa. Despite facing intense adversity, Mandela never wavered in his commitment to justice and equality.
Authenticity & Confidence: Mandela’s strength was his unwavering vision for a democratic and free society. Even after his release, he held onto his principles, choosing reconciliation over revenge. His quiet dignity, lack of bitterness, and dedication to peace were testimony to his authentic self, making him a global symbol of resistance to oppression.
Why “Staying Real” was Key: Mandela’s authenticity was his strength. He didn’t adopt a persona or change his stance for public approval. Instead, he stood firm, trusting in the righteousness of his cause, making him the epitome of coolness in the face of adversity.
2. Audrey Hepburn
Cool under pressure? Hepburn wasn’t just an actress with timeless grace on screen; she was a humanitarian who worked extensively with UNICEF, even visiting war zones to provide aid.
Authenticity & Confidence: Unlike many Hollywood stars, Hepburn didn’t define herself by the glitz and glamour. Her elegance was innate, but her humanitarian efforts and genuine concern for the less fortunate truly defined her. Hepburn once said, “The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.” This approach to life, focusing on true happiness and helping others, showcased her authentic self.
Why “Staying Real” was Key: Hepburn’s charm wasn’t just in her roles or iconic fashion sense but in her authenticity. Whether on a film set or in a famine-stricken area, she remained genuine, showcasing a coolness that stemmed from her genuine love for humanity.
3. David Bowie
Cool under pressure? Bowie was a chameleon in the music world, consistently reinventing his image and sound, often going against the grain of what was popular or expected.
Authenticity & Confidence: Bowie’s various personas might contradict authenticity from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke. But each reinvention genuinely reflected where he was artistically and personally. He wasn’t changing to fit into a mold; he was breaking molds to fit into his ever-evolving self.
Why “Staying Real” was Key: Bowie’s coolness stemmed from his fearless exploration of the self. Genres, expectations, or norms didn’t confine him. His authenticity lay in his fluidity, and his confidence was in his constant evolution. This made him not just a music icon but an icon of coolness.
The Real Essence of Cool
Each figure from different walks of life teaches us a singular truth: coolness isn’t about imitation or trying to fit a perceived standard. It’s about carving out one’s path, even if it means walking alone. It’s about embracing change, holding onto principles, and showcasing vulnerability. In their authenticity and confidence, Mandela, Hepburn, and Bowie exemplify that the essence of coolness lies in staying real, no matter the stage or the circumstance.
The biggest takeaway from our exploration? You don’t have to fit a mold to be cool. Whether you’re a trendsetter, a rule breaker, or someone who marches to the beat of your own drum, there’s coolness in authenticity. Ultimately, it’s not about what you wear, listen to, or drink—it’s about who you are.
So, here’s to all the cool cats out there, from the jazz clubs of yesteryear to the virtual realms of today. Stay cool, stay you, stay real. And remember, as Duke Ellington once said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!”