Saturday, May 31, 2014

What I Learned in May: 2014

I was all set to fire off a rant this morning, when I realized that I didn't really *want* to. After pausing for a beat, it occurred to me that what I actually felt was grateful for a lesson I was taught, subtly, all through my formative years.

Last night, after an emotionally charged baseball game that involved intentionally hitting a player, multiple ejections, and some glaring double standards, a prominent baseball player made a statement, very likely not using his better judgment. I was scrolling social media, looking for information on one of my team's injured players, when a random sports writer decided to "stir the pot" by bringing up what the player said, and then chastising the media present for not taking him to task. Immediately, the social media masses brandished their pitchforks and raised their torches.

Here's the thing: said baseball player called the pitcher who hit him "a little girl." Certainly, he could have chosen a better way to say "you're a chump and a wuss" (like, for instance, calling him a chump and a wuss). But I also know that while the definition of "girl" is neither "chump" nor "wuss," that's what the turn of phrase *means*. I got his point and I am not so thin-skinned that I find this to be damaging to my ego. It wasn't a personal attack against me.

I'm not interested in moral high ground from the media. I want the news to give me facts. I don't need to be spoon fed someone else's agenda. I am capable of gathering facts, intelligent enough to sift through them, and have enough mental fortitude to form my own assessment of a situation. Stirring the pot in such a safe environment as a social media platform, sitting indignantly atop a high horse where the speaker looks no one in the eye, is juvenile and spineless. I don't respect that sort of behavior, because it isn't designed to fix what the issuer sees as a problem, but to insight rage. My ego isn't so fragile that I need the world's approval -- I save that for the people whose direct opinion means something to me and with whom I wish to have some type of relationship -- nor do I need to world to battle for what *it* feels is an affront to me, because most of the time, the battles the world thinks I need fought on my behalf are of no matter to me, personally, whatsoever.

I truly don't believe it is the job of the media, or really even the public masses, to "call out" this player, this *human being's* behavior. Public humiliation never garners true change. At best, you get an insincere PR apology. Not worth a plugged nickel. This is the responsibility of friends, of family, of teammates, to quietly and privately approach someone, about whom they care and have vested interest, to say, "Dude, you probably could have said that better." I know I give far more true consideration when someone who has a vested interest in making sure *I'm* the best sort of person I can be takes the time to say "you could have handled yourself better there" than I do when I'm shamed in front of an audience. If anything, I am *less* likely to perform self-examination and improve my future behavior, and more likely to scowl, lick my wounds, and internally cling more tightly to the "I didn't do anything wrong" mentality.

But now I've gone off an a tangent and I don't want to miss my own point.

I've learned that those responsible for raising me gave me the armor of a thick skin when it comes to the world, saving my thin skin for when it comes to the opinions of those who matter to me. I care what my loved ones think. I don't care what some internet troll or holier-than-thou sports columnist thinks, because their judgment comes in incomplete snapshots and 140-character snippets. I keep my skin thin for those people in my life who I know make me a better person every time I learn another life lesson.

I also learned that becoming fruitlessly rage-y over every little thing accomplishes nothing. Not everyone has to embrace every "cause." In fact, we'll get more done if we don't! Not everyone needs to post a quote from a newly deceased public figure. Not everyone needs to publicly rebuke every misspoken word or ill-conceived action. Not every "Twitter hashtag trend" needs to be granted participation. Not everyone needs to openly mourn every horrifying incident that takes place. Just because it isn't posted to social media for the world to see indicates that an individual doesn't care to see the world around them. Most of the time, when I see person after person leaping onto the "cause du jour," I wonder if they genuinely feel passionately about what they're saying or if it's just the cool thing to do. Because, man, if they feel this passionately about everything they claim to, in this very public venue, I'm not sure how they don't either explode from the internal pressure or collapse under its enormous burden. Picking and choosing the issues that truly *matter* to me gives me focus. Having to keep up with every new "issue," just to be "cool," is both insincere and unproductive, especially with the pace modern society and technology barrage us with this moment's "breaking news."

And finally, I understood that I was taught an incredibly valuable lesson by my elders: People will always say things that I may not like or with which I do not agree. More often than not, it isn't personal, unless it was said directly to or about me. (Sometimes, even then, it's not entirely personal, but that requires a thick enough skin to look below the surface and at the bigger picture and all that jargon.)

It is with these priceless life lessons in my arsenal that I consider a turn of phrase used by a well-known athlete. I take into account the words of an emotionally charged man, with a microphone in his face, and a dozen journalists asking questions intended to fuel the fire, waiting to pounce on the first unfortunate thing to exit the mouth of an angry person. (I believe my Gram called me an instigator when I behaved that way and told me I was more part of the problem than the solution.) I know I've said plenty of things, while upset, from which I had to learn. I'm no better or worse than this man, simply because he occupies a spotlight, and I am lucky my countless flaws aren't daily on display before the Judge and Jury of Public Opinion. My upbringing whispers in my ear: "He shouldn't have said what he did, perhaps, but angry people often don't think before they speak. Try hard to think before *you* speak, and have compassion when others make mistakes, because you will too, and you will wish for that compassion dozens of times every day. If you can, help them to see how to do better next time, but not everything is a personal attack. Emotions of any sort make us say and do things, that in  retrospect and from a cooler perspective, we'll wish we had handled differently. Learn from it, from the mistakes you observe and the mistakes you commit."

This month, as it winds to a close, I learned something about myself and my upbringing that makes my world a good place in which to exist -- a world where not everything needs to be An Issue of Epic Proportion, a world where kindness and compassion make a large difference, both in how I treat others and in my own day-to-day happiness, a world where I can breathe easy and learn from error and afford others the same opportunity.

Every month, Chatting at the Sky shares what she learned. Big things and little things. Life lessons from the serious to the silly. I've decided I want to participate. Just another means of capturing who am I along this broken little road called life.

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