The Truth Resists Simplicity

As a child, I frequently heard a specific refrain when there was food on my plate that I didn’t want to eat.

“Eat X food. Don’t you want to grow up to be big and strong?”

I was always baffled by that sentiment. Did I want to grow up to be big and strong? That seemed silly to me. I just wanted to be normal. Whatever that meant.

To my mom, growing up big and strong had a very physical skew to its meaning. Throughout most of middle and high school, I was a long distance runner. I didn’t crack 150 pounds until shortly before graduation, and only then because I had chosen not to do track my senior year. Every time I saw my mom, she complained that I looked emaciated, saying that I needed to gain weight if I wanted to stay healthy. The last time I saw my mom in person was around four years ago. At the time, I was near the largest I’ve ever been, coming in at around 240-250 pounds. My mom’s response? I only needed to put on a few more pounds to look “normal”[1].

To my first stepmom, growing up big and strong meant learning how to be physical, both in life and sports. Choosing cross country over football wasn’t just a sign of weakness, it was damn near treasonous. If my stepbrothers were bullying me, it was my job to punch them back. No one was going to help me, nor were they going to care that said stepbrothers were ten and thirteen years older than me, respectively. Drink up the milk, young Tim. It’ll help you in a fight.

But why did I need to be big and strong? Why did it matter? Put simply, there’s evil in the world. If you can’t stand up for what you believe in — and what you believe in is what is right — why bother living?

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that understanding and standing up for what you believe in is critically important. With that said, if you cannot also learn to listen to, communicate with, and attempt to understand those who have different points of view than you, you’re only doing a disservice to yourself.

I want to grow intellectually. I want to find a better understanding of the world around me. The world around me is extremely complex. It’s changing on a daily basis around each and every one of us. And if I’m not doing what I can to learn about the world at large — eating my knowledge vegetables to grow up big and strong, if you will — I’ll grow up to be intellectually weak. I won’t be able to adapt and to learn about those around me. I won’t be able to be empathetic towards someone who is different from me, especially in a world where empathy is sorely lacking.

As much as I enjoy social media, it’s a toxic thing. Twitter in particular seems to bring out the worst in people from all walks of life. If you’re not trying to be as radical, hateful, and obnoxious in your point of view as you can be, you’re not going to generate a following there. I’ve watched countless people I used to respect go down the road from being a normal human on Twitter to being a caricature of their former self. Only now they were filled with more rage than before. Some of it is the current American political climate, sure. But when you’re in an echo chamber where you only hear what you want to hear, anger gets amplified. People who don’t agree with you start to look less and less human. Everyone on the right becomes a fascist. Everyone on the left becomes a communist. And everyone in the middle, regardless of where on the continuum they fall, becomes little and weak because they’re perceived that they aren’t capable of taking a stand.

The truth resists that simplicity, as it does with most simple explanations. There are very, very bad people in this world. Every group has its terrible people. Yes. All of them. Even the ones you, dear reader, belong to. And we cannot let those terrible people dictate our lives. But we also must remember that change does not occur overnight. Drinking one glass of milk doesn’t make you big and strong. Making one phone call to your congressman doesn’t solve all of the political problems. Seeing the actions of one side of the political spectrum and saying that your side could never do that because you’re not like that doesn’t fix anything.

Time, understanding, patience, and compassion fix things. Those attributes must be exercised towards everyone — ESPECIALLY those who are not like you. Otherwise, what’s there left to grow up for?

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Missing the Point

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’m a big fan both of comedian John Oliver and of his show Last Week Tonight. The show typically focuses on one or two topics in need of some level of social commentary, typically coming to a crescendo with Oliver taking down at least one person/company/entity who deserves said crticism. Recently, it appears the intellectual community of the internet — a community which I typically consider myself to be a part of — has found itself in a tizzy about one of Oliver’s recent web-only videos.

In the above video, Oliver reminds students it’s time to go back to school in his typical satirical manner. In doing so, Oliver pokes fun at some of the stereotypes associated with common school subjects such as biology, English, and mathematics. While I won’t transcribe the entire video, some of the lines I’ve seen yelled about the most frequently are below.

Let’s move on to math. You’re going to be repeatedly told this when you grow up. That is bullshit. You will need addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division…and that is it.

 

Let’s talk about biology. You may have to dissect a frog this year, in which case, if you do, the most lasting lesson will be what frog embalming fluid smells like. You will never forget it. Seriously, you will forget your first kiss before that stench leaves your nostrils.

 

Let’s move on to chemistry. This is going to be disappointing. Unless you have good teacher, you probably won’t even learn how to cook meth and that’s really all anyone’s in it for.

As you might imagine, this particular section of the video enraged members of the STEM community, particularly those who don’t understand Oliver’s dry, sardonic sense of humor. While I certainly understand that STEM fields are in need of positive portrayal and effective promotion by school districts (particularly to young girls), criticizing a humorous piece written by someone who is typical an ardent supporter of improving education is not the right way to go about things. After all, it’s not that long ago that the internet intellectual community was praising Oliver for his takedown of standardized testing in American school districts.

If you’re undecided about Oliver’s back to school video at the top of the page, I encourage you to take it as nothing more than what it was meant to be — a comedic piece aimed at younger students of various intellectual levels who may or may not enjoy every class they take with the same intensity as their favorite course((Hint: they don’t. I detested English class in high school. That certainly hasn’t stopped me from writing as an adult.)). If you’re angry at Oliver for writing and performing a piece that belittles the importance of education, I’d encourage you to rewatch the video. It would appear you’ve missed the point of the video altogether.

I Just Want A Snow Day

Let’s travel to the past for a bit, shall we?

*goofy flashback music and weird scene transition*

It’s the winter of 2003-2004, sometime just after Christmas. I’m a sophomore in high school, and I’m getting ready to participate in our area’s largest wrestling tournament. I’d missed the tourney the previous year with an injury, so I was quite excited to get my chance to wrestle at this particular event.

Two days before the event, the impending threat of snow, ice, and cold caused the tournament organizers to cancel the event. The weather was bad enough that not only with the tournament cancelled, but our return to school was delayed by two days (as the event took place over Christmas break). My dad, brother, and I had no electricity for six days, so we cooked ramen and frozen pizzas over a kerosene stove((this happened more often than I’d like to admit as a child, though usually it was non-payment, not storms that knocked out our electric)).

*end poorly lit flashback sequence*

While there are many differences between being an adult now and being the child I once was, one of the few that I truly miss is the concept of a snow day. Even with a notoriously stubborn school board like my district had, we’d average 4-7 days per year where school would be cancelled due to inclement weather. Growing up in a rural area, everyone got used to driving on snow-covered roads, so it took a lot to close our district down. That said though, I really enjoyed those mornings when my dad would come into the room my brother and I shared, only to wake us up with the message that we could go back to sleep.

Even in college, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of instances where the entire university was closed due to weather. The one that sticks out in my mind was a night where we had 12-18 inches of snow fall on campus, cancelling classes the next day. As the snow began to really pick up (there were 3-4 inches of snow on the ground at this point) my co-hosts and I trudged across campus to run a radio show. We ended up staying on air an hour longer than normal hoping the snow would let up some for our walk back. No one else dared brave the weather, so it’s not like anyone else was going to stop us anyway.

As an adult though, snow days are a sweet memory of the past. No matter rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor hail, there’s no closing down the great money train…even if weather would logically dictate otherwise.

I mean, it's not like it got really fucking cold recently or anything. Image courtesy weather.com
I mean, it’s not like it got really fucking cold recently or anything. Image courtesy weather.com

In my opinion, there should be adult snow days. In a basic premise, businesses within a particular school district would follow the lead of the school itself. If a school district closes down due to inclement weather, all businesses in said district must shut down too. For many parents with children, a closure of school but not work forces parents to take their child to daycare — exposing the children to the same driving conditions that the schools closed to protect them from. Since leaving your children alone at home isn’t usually the best decision, the concept of adult snow days has the potential to help out some parents.

That’s not to say I’m leaving out those of us in the non-parent crowd. After all, parents get enough benefits in life already before this adult snow day plan. Whether it be tax credits for children, store coupons geared toward the fact that their child can’t use a toilet, or any other miscellaneous nonsense, the adult snow day will not be another perk to having a kid. Every adult would receive a snow day under this plan.

There is though one problem that would impact many in the workforce, be they parents or otherwise. Like many people, I work in one school district, yet live in another. Furthermore, I have to cross a fair number of other districts in order to reach my workplace. What if the school district you live in closes down, but the district where your workplace resides does not? This is where you would use some of your flex snow days. Each adult would receive a set number of inclement weather flex days they can use in the event that their school district of residence closes when their workplace district does not.

Is my plan flawed? Sure it is. That said, unless you’re a business owner, I can’t see too many people complaining about the concept of adult snow days.

What childhood experience do you wish you could have more often as an adult? Is it snow days? Naptime? Something else? Sound off in the comments.

Uncomfortable Is A Good Thing

So it’s the day after the Super Bowl. By now, you’ve heard the outcome of the game((Congrats to the Patriots on a hard-fought win over my beloved Seahawks.)), laughed at the fact that Katy Perry was a walking ad for The Hunger Games, and been told how you should feel about the various commercials that played during the game. It’s extremely likely that you’ve been told that Nationwide Insurance put on a tasteless, depressing, insensitive advertisement that pissed off a lot of people.

Before I get into my opinion, I want to give those of you who didn’t have a chance to see the ad the opportunity to do so. If you’ve seen it and don’t want to see it again, my post continues below.

In looking at the reaction on Twitter immediately after this ad played, it’s a wonder someone didn’t try to go burn down Nationwide’s corporate offices. The vitriol spewed about this commercial — while not surprising — was overwhelming. See, anytime any form of media tries to take on the tragedy that is the death of a child, you’re walking a very, very thin line. When you’re an insurance company who is using childhood deaths to sell insurance, that line gets obliterated and no one gives a damn about what you have to say.

It’s a natural human reaction to flip out when you hear about something that’s jarring to your psyche.

And yet, had this spot come in any other form besides an advertisement, it would have been lauded as a wonderful piece of writing. People would have looked at it as a heartbreaking reminder that life is fragile, and that not all death happens to the old. Children are our future. To see or hear about one of them passing on is a disturbing and dark reality that no family would ever want to go through.

While the venue Nationwide chose could (and likely should) be debated, people screaming about how there shouldn’t be ads talking about dead children are missing the point. Just because the ad made you uncomfortable does not mean that it shouldn’t be on air. Hell, the NFL had an anti-domestic violence ad which was equally as impactful((And likely would have been more so had it come from anyone except the NFL.)) on an equally dark topic. Yet, there’s no backlash over that ad.

The argument could be made that the reason there was backlash over Nationwide’s ad but not the NFL’s is the sales factor. The NFL wasn’t trying to sell you anything in their spot, while Nationwide was. If that’s your sole point of contention, I get that. I’m willing to accept it and will agree with you on that point.

However, if your argument is that the death of children shouldn’t be talked about on television because it is too dark, too depressing, too taboo to bring to light on the single largest televised event in the world just because it makes you uncomfortable…then I’m legitimately concerned about your morality. No topic where harm is inflicted (intentionally or not) should be hidden from discussion on a large-scale. It’s how progress happens. It’s how change occurs. It’s how what Nationwide’s tagline to this commercial stated — Make Safe Happen — actually happens.

Front Page Image Credit — bizjournals.com

As Cool As The Other Side Of The Pillow

Story time.

Roughly 11 years ago, I was a sophomore in high school. Like many high school students, I was struggling with the decision as to where I wanted to go to college. I was considering many different institutions((Including a pair of well-known schools in the Midwestern USA)), while comparing them to a local-ish public institution that I ended up attending. The decision took me just over a year to make, and was heavily influenced by my desire to attend the same school as my high school sweetheart((A story which rarely ends happily for anyone)).

I did, however, think that I knew what I wanted to do with my life at that point in time. I was very convinced that I wanted to be a sports talk show host. My fascination with sports and my realization that I wasn’t good enough to play sports in college had finally merged the year prior, so I saw sports broadcasting as a way to stay close to the games I loved, while developing my own voice in the process.

It wasn’t that far-fetched of an idea. Whenever I played sports video games, I’d turn down the volume and provide my own play-by-play and color commentary. When my brother, my cousins, and I played backyard football/kickball games, one of my cousins would dutifully keep statistics so that I could enter them in an Excel spreadsheet afterwards. I even did newspaper-style writeups of the games after the fact, much to the delight of my younger cousins, who were amused by seeing their names typed on a piece of paper in Courier font.

I went off to college in the fall of 2006. I began volunteering for one of our college’s radio stations shortly thereafter, and started my first sports radio show, The Two Minute Drill, with a couple of friends. We had a two-and-a-half year run before I graduated, in which we got kicked off air once((Much to my dad’s disappointment, it wasn’t for violating FCC rules, rather an extremely tiny radio station technicality that resulted in a one-week suspension)), hosted two eating contests, three live bands, and subjected Grantland writer/editor Mallory Rubin (then working for Sports Illustrated) to what was likely the single worst interview of her life((The context of said interview was awful and is arguably my only regret from college, though that’s a story for another post)). The show was as disjointed and yet flowing in its format as I was, and I brought The Two Minute Drill its trademarked style.

I say all of this to bring up the fact that one of the two people who inspired me to try media as a career died yesterday. Stuart Scott passed away at the age of 49 after a lengthy battle with cancer. While I am not an African-American, Scott was one of the few sports commentators that really resonated with me in my youth. The passion, flair, and professionalism with which he spoke made Scott one of the most talented and well-respected speakers in an industry full of them. And yet, Scott is perhaps best known for his catchphrases that he intertwined into calling highlights. Prior to Scott, announcing highlights was merely a retelling of a story. After Stuart Scott came on the scene, it became a work of art.

The impact that Scott had on sports media goes well beyond the addition of “booyah” to the average American’s vocabulary. He served as a groundbreaking figure toward the growth of African-Americans in sports media, particularly at ESPN itself. In many of ESPN’s tributes to Scott yesterday, his coworkers spoke of how great of a person Stuart Scott was to go along with his verbal skills((Sage Steele’s story about Scott stood out to me. Go here and scroll down to the section labeled “Friend” if you want to read her story)). His speech last year at the ESPY’s detailing his fight with cancer was as uplifting and as moving as a speech as you’ll hear anyone give((It could even move people who say cancer is an over-publicized disease to tears, not that anyone in their right mind would actually say that…right?)).

During my final semester at college, I realized that I didn’t want to work in sports media anymore. There were people who viewed sports as a life-or-death matter, and those people — fans, as they greedily call themselves — place far too much emphasis on what’s happening on the field. To me, Stuart Scott will always be the antithesis of that very ideology. He was a man who viewed sports as a for of entertainment — one that he enjoyed very much, but also something that was always secondary to the truly important things in life.

Front page image credit: DisneyDena on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons License.