Category Archives: Opinion

COMING SOON: “Solving The Country’s Problems”

Hello everyone! I realize it has been a while since I wrote anything new, but I wanted to write this short post to let you know to be on the lookout for a new series of articles I’m calling “Solving The Country’s Problems.”

There is so much happening right now and I’ve been observing, reading, listening and participating. Pretty soon, I’ll be sharing my views on these issues.

I hope that when you read the articles I’ll be posting that you will discuss them. I realize that this blog is not a major publication and I’m not trying to make it one. But when I started it, I gave it the subtitle of “A Place for Everyone” and I intend to hold true to that. I’m writing these articles because I feel that these issues need more discussion. Maybe we can find some answers together. Or maybe we’ll have one hell of a debate!

In either case, stay tuned. I hope you enjoy the articles as they come out.

Participation Trophies Need To Go, Now!

ParticipationTrophy

 

Which of these do you think is the definition of the word Trophy?

An object (such as a large cup or sculpture) that is given as a prize for winning a competition.

-or-

An object (such as a large cup or sculpture) that is given as a reward for any level of participation in a competition, regardless of the outcome.

When I was growing up, I had two trophies which I proudly displayed on a book shelf in my bedroom.  One was for taking 2nd Place in the Pinewood Derby when I was in Cub Scouts.  The other was when my soccer team took 2nd Place.  It was the best season we ever had and the highest we ever ranked.  For the record, I didn’t feel deserving of the trophy, even though it was earned as a team for our efforts, because I was the worst player on the team.  I wasn’t harassed or bullied into thinking so, I really was the worst player on the team.  I knew it.  My teammates knew it.  I was fine with it then and I’m fine with it now.  However, those same teammates convinced me that we earned 2nd Place together.  As a team.  So I should have the trophy.  By the way, my father coached that team and he never treated me special.  In fact, during practice one afternoon, I was being a bit disruptive and he made me take several lapps around the field.  Yes, I was tired from the lapps but I learned my lesson.  But that’s a story for another article.

I faced many challenges growing up because I had (and still have) a handicap.  I’m legally blind.  Again, I was fine with it then and I am fine with it now.  I tried sports I wasn’t very good at and failed all the time.  I was the kid in gym class that nobody wanted on their team and who almost always got picked last.  I usually had to sit in the front row of my classes so I could read the board.  I had HUGE large print versions of textbooks that were heavier than everyone else’s.  I also got to read the Olympic Oath in front of the whole school when my elementary school celebrated the Winter Olympics in 1980; because I wrote the best essay on why I wanted to do it.  I appeared on the local television news twice to read the weather forecast in spanish during my middle school’s celebration of National Foreign Language Week in 1982 and 1984; because I worked hard and was a star student in spanish class.  I discovered that I actually could play basketball and pool and volleyball and mini-golf and some other sports pretty well.  Basically, I have kicked ass and have gotten my ass kicked.  All without one…single…participation…trophy!

Now I, along with most people who know me, consider myself a very open minded person.  But you will never convince me that participation trophies are necessary.  I have heard and read a ton of arguments that say they bolster self-esteem and confidence.  Do you know what I say to that?

CRAP!  STINKY, STEAMY, COMMIN’-OUTTA-ME-LIKE-LAVA, CRAP!!!

What they actually do is promote false senses of accomplishment and entitlement while simultaneously devaluing the hard work of anyone who has actually done what is worthy of earning a trophy.

Now, for those parents who say, “Hey, my kid needs to know their effort counted,” I say, “I agree.  But telling them that is your job and the coach’s job; it doesn’t deserve a trophy!”  And by the way, that’s if the kid actually put forth an effort.  Standing on the field picking your nose and staring off into space is not an effort!  Now, I do believe in awards for most improved player or best effort or things like that.  Just not for the nose-picking kid who probably doesn’t want to be there anyway.

And, for those parents who say, “Hey, they’re all winners,” I say, “No, they’re not.”  I’m not saying they’re losers, I’m saying that not everyone is a winner.  Not having a trophy DOES NOT MAKE YOU A LOSER and anyone who says it does, should be quiet.

Healthy competition is good in all aspects of life.  It helps us to want to do better and push ourselves.  It teaches us how to win and lose gracefully.  Giving a child a trophy just for showing up diminishes the value of what a trophy really is.  Trophies should go from 1st to 3rd place.  After that, you get pizza. And come on, who doesn’t love pizza?!?

Degrees and diplomas aren’t given to students who just go to school.  Don’t even get me started on “No Child Left Behind” though.  Oscars and Emmys and Grammys and Tonys aren’t given to every movie or show and every performer. Only one team in the NFL gets the SuperBowl Ring.  Only one team in the NHL gets the Stanley Cup…  Catch my drift?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that participation trophies are for children but, why are they even necessary?  I never had any, and my self esteem or confidence or worth weren’t diminished because of it.  In fact, I strongly believe that those things would have been disproportionately high and wrong had I been given participation trophies.  I had to work harder than most to do some of the things that better-sighted people take for granted.  I had parents who instilled self-confidence and self-worth in me.  Who taught me that you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do.  You get rewarded for doing extraordinary things, exceeding expectations, or at least trying harder than everyone else; and even THAT isn’t a guarantee.  Showing up doesn’t mean you get honored.  Showing up means you get an opportunity.  And what you do with that opportunity is up to you.  Children DON’T need participation trophies.  What they DO need is for their parents and families and friends and teachers and coaches to actually teach them the lessons of life.

I know that deep down, we all want to take our children’s pain away.  But you can’t do that.  Life is about experiences.  Good and bad.  Our children must be allowed to realize this.  That while not being the best is not the end of the world, being the best requires hard work and dedication.  That failure WILL happen.  Just like it did to these people…

The true measure of a person is how they deal with the things that go wrong in their lives, their pain, their disappointments.  If we take those things away from them, if we tell them that all they have to do to be recognized is just show up, they will grow up to expect things to be handed to them.  They won’t strive to be better, to take risks, to become more than they thought they could be.  They will accept a life of mediocrity because they got a trophy;  just like the one the best player got.  So why should they work for it?

I’ll close this article with this segment from comedian Christopher Titus.  I’ll warn you that the language is NSFW (Not Safe For Work).

I’d like this article to turn into a discussion.  Please leave comments if you have them.  If you like this article, or even hate it, pass it on.  We need to have an intelligent discussion about this issue.

 

Are Americans Abusing Free Speech?

Whenever I think about free speech, I’m always reminded of a line from 1995’s The American President. In this Aaron Sorkin film, Michael Douglas plays charismatic fictional President Andrew Sheppard. During a long speech he delivers towards the film’s conclusion, he addresses free speech by saying…

You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

Very well said. I could not agree more. While these were words said by a fictional President in a fictional White House, Sorkin was no doubt basing that portion of the speech on Voltaire who said…

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

That’s fine, but what do we do when we eventually come across an opinion we don’t like? I mean, we’re all entitled to our opinion, right? And in this country, we’re all entitled to express that opinion. Well, you could try to regulate it. Or you could just not listen to it, as George Carlin said some years ago…

The FCC, an appointed body, not elected, answerable only to the President, decided all on its own that radio and television were the only two parts of American life not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Why did they decide that?  Because they got a letter from a reverend in Mississippi!  A Reverend Donald Wildman in Mississippi heard something on the radio that he didn’t like.  But hey reverend there are two knobs on the radio.  One of them turns the radio off and the other one changes the station!  Imagine that reverend, you can actually change the station.  It’s called freedom of choice, and it’s one of the principles this country was founded upon.  Look it up in the library, reverend, if you have any of them left when you’re finished burning all the books!

George is basically saying, if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. Agreed. I have never been in favor of the idea of banning or destroying something simply because some well-funded person or group doesn’t like it.

Alright, so I’ve pretty well covered the listener. But what about the speaker? The speaker has the right to say what they want, but does that right come with any responsibility? Is it possible to abuse free speech? What if their opinion amounts to nothing more than hatred or offensiveness or just plain meanness? You might say that depends on who the audience is; and, by extension, who the speaker is. Are they a private citizen or a very public figure? A very public figure has much more access to a broader audience then a person nobody knows standing on a street corner with a megaphone. But if that person on a street corner has access to just one social media account, their audience goes up exponentially. Add social media to very public figures who had media attention before social media even existed and now we’re really talking about exponentially multiplicative audience reach. That occurrence is what motivated me to write this article.

On last Wednesday’s 700 Club (8/27/2014), Pat Robertson blamed the “God Of The Heathen” for Robin Williams’ August 11th suicide. Basically saying that had Robin Williams come to God, he would not have killed himself. He said…

You see these very popular people in the media who commit suicide like Robin Williams recently and you say, ‘What is the deal with him? What happened?’ You find people who are at the top of the game in music and they’re strung out on drugs. What happened? What was their God?

You see, the god of the heathen are idols, and everything that you seek in life can ruin you unless that something and somebody is God himself.

He can fill your every need, and he won’t disappoint you and you won’t want to commit suicide after you have come to him.

Now, I don’t watch the 700 Club. Never have. There’s an article in the Huffington Post that covered Robertson’s statements. While I do read the Huff, that’s not where I found out about it. It was in my Facebook feed because one of my friends commented on a similar article that was in a different publication. So it quite literally just popped up in front of me. Now, going by my own rules, I should just ignore it if I don’t like it. And I’m fine with doing that. But I have a problem.

The 83-year-old reverend essentially called Robin Williams a heathen. Are you effing kidding me? Robertson is supposed to be a man of God! He is a very prominent Christian with a big microphone and a huge audience. How is calling a man who is no longer alive a name such as “heathen” even remotely helpful? How does it help Robin Williams’ family grieve for him? (they probably have the makings of a good slander suit) What does it accomplish other than to demonstrate AGAIN Robertson’s willingness to use a national tragedy to further his own agenda and increase his ratings all in the name of God and religion? And speaking of religion, doesn’t Robertson’s religion tout, “Judge not lest ye be judged?” Yep, it does; in the Bible in the book of Matthew. So isn’t the good reverend committing blasphemy by judging Robin Williams? Not to mention the total hypocrisy of a man who’s net worth from his “preaching” is somewhere between $200 Million and $1 Billion, depending on the source you check, accusing a beloved man who’s enormous talent brought him fame and fortune, of worshiping the wrong God because of his aforementioned fame and fortune. I think you’d better check which God YOU are worshiping, Reverend. And if, somehow, you happen to read this article, I invite you to contact me so we can discuss it. I certainly don’t wish you any harm but a good “Gibbs Slap” to the back of the head […NCIS reference] might do you a world of good. But I digress.

What I’m saying is that while I don’t think we should start curtailing free speech, we need to start thinking about what we say and who will ultimately be exposed to it. That goes from what goes on inside our own homes to what the most public of public figures say. It’s about thinking more globally and seeing past our own noses. It’s about taking a beat and thinking about how what you say will affect others. Let me give you a much more basic example. If you’re chopping something in the kitchen and you are maybe going too fast and accidentally give yourself a deep cut, is someone saying to you, “I told you to be careful” of any help to you whatsoever? No. You simply don’t need that. What you do need is a bandage or perhaps a ride to the emergency room.

My father always says, “think before you speak.” Wise words. The fact that we have the ability to express our opinion doesn’t necessarily mean that we always have to. If we feel we must, then we should all think about how we do it; especially if it comes from a public figure. Are we helping or hurting? Are we making a meaningful contribution to the conversation or are we just shooting our mouths off? We have slander and libel laws but we don’t have common sense laws. And quite frankly, we shouldn’t need common sense laws. But I caution you, if we aren’t careful, one day we will have them. And we won’t like it. But nobody will know that because we won’t be allowed to say so. Freedom of speech is precious. Don’t abuse it.

Dear Robin Williams

Heaven

As I sit here on this cool Friday night writing this, I am still in disbelief.  I cannot believe you are gone.  We never knew each other, but I feel such a loss, as I’m sure the entire world does.  A light has gone out.

I remember seeing you for the first time on “Happy Days” using your alien powers on Fonzie and the gang.  I had no idea who you were then.  Nor did I have any idea that you would go on to fill my life with so much laughter.  From television to movies to stand-up comedy.  I laughed until I cried.  I loved “Mork & Mindy.”  I even had the trading cards.  My first year of college, I listened to your “Live At The Met” cassette so many times, I practically memorized it.  “Aladdin” became my favorite Disney movie because of you.  Watching you in “Good Morning Vietnam” only furthered my dream to become a radio DJ, which I finally did in 1994.  The list goes on and on.  I have quoted more of your funny lines than I can count.  The first time I ever saw you in a dramatic role, I thought, “there’s no way a guy this funny could pull it off.”  But you did.  I remember thinking what a wonderful person you must be and that if the opportunity ever came along, that one day I would like to shake your hand.  Maybe even give you a hug.

When I saw the news notification on my phone on Monday evening of your passing, I remember thinking it was a rumor.  A mistake.  There was no way Robin Williams was gone.  It had to be wrong.  People die.  It’s just a fact of life.  But not you.  You were larger than life.  But the news footage only confirmed my shock and fear.  You were gone.  A cold shiver ran down my spine.  It was the end of an era.  I stood there, alone, looking up into the sky and wondering why…

You brought so much laughter and joy to this world.  Yet you were in so much pain.  I cannot imagine the pain you must have been in, thinking that this world would be better off without you.  I will not analyze you or judge you.  But I would like to say thank you for all of the wonderful things you have done; for the countless lives, including mine, that you have touched.  I only hope with all my heart that your pain has come to an end and that you are finally at peace.

Rest well, Mr. Williams.  I shall miss you.

Love,

-Tom