POLO, YOLO, and Other Incarnations of Carpe Diem

4*Since I am 31 and consequently hopelessly un-hip, I had to go to my students for a little clarification. Over the past few weeks, I had seen references to “YOLO” or “You only live once” all over the internet. I mean, I knew what it meant, only not where it came from. My students told me that it has gained its recent notoriety from its use by the rapper Drake. The  song “The Motto,” is a charming ode to his self-professed gargantuan sexual prowess and numerous sexual escapades. If I am understanding the song correctly, he is able to have these abundant trysts because he is certain that he will only live once (probably true) and this fact should therefore inform all of his decisions, particularly those dealing with the (repeated) use of his manhood. The lyrics are pretty graphic, even for a guy whose job it is to espouse the virtues of imagery. But I digress.

“You only live once” is of course yet another presentation of the carpe diem mindset that would have one eschew rational thought and the likelihood of consequences for a more appealing set of circumstances and a possible immediate return on investment. Since I am 31 and consequently hopelessly un-hip, this makes no sense to me at all.

When I was in high school, there was a group of guys who hung out together and dubbed their group POLO.

Aside: I wasn’t in this group, I was (and still am) in IMOP. Looking back, I can’t tell you why it seemed like members of my class felt the need to give their groups of friends names, but shit yeah, it felt like the right thing to do at the time. 

5Anyway, as I remember, the guys in this group said that POLO stood for “Players Only Live Once.” Supposedly – like Drake’s mantra – it was some kind of justification for juggling multiple sexual relationships simultaneously. I’ll be honest. I was un-hip even at 17 and so I found this concept to be patently ridiculous. After all, I was struggling to find one girl to find me attractive – balancing several romantic or physical relationships at once wasn’t going to be a problem for me.

For reasons that were never clear to me, in time, the name of the group changed. It was still POLO, but in its newest form those letters stood for Possessing One Love Only, which of course was the direct and polar opposite of the original spirit of the name. I don’t know what happened. I suspect one or more of those guys got into serious relationships that precluded them from carrying on in their erstwhile philandering ways. Love changes you, man. Totally.

6Don’t get me wrong. The last thing I want is for people to think I am some tightly-wound stickler who takes breaks from writing his blog to make sure the stick up his ass is secured firmly. I’m all for spontaneity. I want to dance as if no one is watching, too, even if there is no disparity between my dancing depending on viewership because I can’t dance period (I would look kind of like the late Chris Farley here).

I know responsibility is a dirty word in some circles (youth culture, anarchists, high school English teachers), but responsibility is a vital part of being a human in any kind of society. This is an unavoidable fact of life, inherent to social relationships, and yet it’s the first thing to get lit on fire and then tossed out the window once carpe diem enters the discussion. If you’re standing next to your car and your buddy says “Come to the bar with me,” then you say “Sure, you only live once,” it’s not a big deal. That likely is the kind of decision that won’t dramatically affect anything except for the level of discomfort you experience while sleeping on the couch instead of your bed. But if you’re making a decision that might have serious consequences – for you and others – the “you only live once” attitude isn’t just irrational, it’s irresponsible. If you’re on the fence about a serious dilemma and on the one hand you’ve got an entire list of reasons why you shouldn’t do something, and in the other column all you have written is “YOLO,” you should probably go with the numbers.

You ever notice how “Why the hell not?” is always a rhetorical question? It’s a question that doesn’t need to be answered because the person doing the asking already knows the answer(s). “Why the hell not?” isn’t really a question; it’s a statement. It says “I know there are several logical reasons why I should not be selecting this option, but in truth none of them matter to me as much as the instant gratification I am likely to receive by ignoring them.” It says “YOLO.”

Unlike Drake, I am not 25 sitting on 25 mil. Sadly, that’s the only way YOLO can really make any sense: you have to be young enough not to care and rich enough to be able to pay for the consequences of not caring.


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