There’s like four different parts of this that I feel like I should lead with, so this might not be the most structurally sound piece you’ve ever read at the beginning. My mind is all over the place right now. Bear with me.
At this point, we all know what happened. The NBA players, in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, have started a boycott of the playoffs. The boycott began yesterday afternoon with the Bucks deciding to not take the court for Game 5 of their first round series, and there is not, as I write this, a decision on when, or if, games will resume. It doesn’t look like anyone knows, and the players’ meeting last night reportedly, and understandably, got a little ugly. We’ll have to wait and see because the reports coming out of that meeting are the opposite of definitive.
Obviously, that means that there will be no bets here today. There were no bets yesterday, and there’s no reflection on how I did and how I might do. There’s no reason for The Gambling Prayer or for an update on how many dollars I’ve lost.
I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure where I want to go with this as I sit here. So I’ll start with a few basic ideas that should cover my bases.
This is a basketball website for a basketball club at Michigan. When it was started last year, the goal was to come together around basketball. Inherently, that requires avoiding certain divisive topics that would harm that goal. I firmly believe in that and the importance of having spaces where we can all come together regardless of who we are and what we believe in, and for that reason I’m not going to talk about politics, Blake, policies, the police, the government, or anything else within that realm. This isn’t the place for it, and it would be hypocritical of me to share my own thoughts here and then request that others withhold their thoughts on those topics during club-related activities. It’s ignorant to pretend that sports can exist on an island without any connection to other things, but it’s also just not right to stuff your political opinions into sports and then say it can’t be helped. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I’ll be doing my best to keep this in a place where anyone can hopefully take something from it.
So, the question then might be “why write at all?” It might be the smart idea to just take a few days off, but, frankly, the tension of the last five months is hitting hard right now. I know I need something positive, and this blog is a place for me to have a little fun and get things off my chest. It’s important to find that positivity at all times. I do and always will believe that as well. Hopefully at least a few people enjoy it and take things from it. In other words, I want to write something today because it helps me, and maybe something useful will come of it.
Before I get to that, I feel like I should say that the players are fully in control of their own actions. They owe us nothing, just like we owe them nothing. I don’t think that unbending support is the only acceptable response to whatever they end up choosing to do with the rest of the season, but it’s not our decision, plain and simple.
Now onto the rest of this. What exactly do I want to say here? Let me list off some of the things we’re dealing with, and I’ll explain why in a little bit.
We’ve been fighting a pandemic since March. A school year with unprecedented limitations and issues is starting, and the work space has been going through the same situation for months now.
The social isolation from the virus hasn’t been easy, and I think we’ve spent too much time brushing it off to pretend that we’re fine. We’ve coped because we had no other option, and we’ve rarely stopped to consider that we might just be brushing our problems under the rug because there’s no where else to put them. So many of the things we typically turn to have been stopped or limited.
We’re in the middle of national unrest and riots. It’s hard to trust authority figures – on all sides – that we theoretically should be able to trust fully, and there’s just a vicious social climate. I find myself looking over my shoulder as I write this, worried that I might say the wrong thing. I’m reading this over again repeatedly for the same reason. That’s probably not the best backdrop for actually improving as a group (not enough people are going to read this for any sort of actual controversy to erupt from it but we don’t need to come out and say that).
Sports, which at their best are a beacon of positivity for so many, are, in some cases, on the ropes only weeks after their return.
A hurricane is about to crash into the South, and there are more bad things happening all around the world. That has been and always will be the case, but we are now more connected than ever before. Incidents and problems that we wouldn’t have heard about even 50 years ago are now everywhere we look. It’s tough to deal with the sensory overload, and we’ve got quite the ticking time bomb on our hands when you throw in the truly rare occurrence of the pandemic.
It’s important to recognize what we’re going through. No one is shy about shouting criticisms of others or society as a whole – and there’s definitely some of that above. But we do tend to avoid talking about personal problems and the effects those large-scale issues are having on us as individuals. Not this group, or these people, but me and you. Now, we shouldn’t be grabbing a box of tissues and telling our sob stories to anyone who will listen because there does come a point where we need to get up and address our own issues. But, it’s also wrong to not admit that we’re struggling or to hide our own issues behind fake confidence or criticisms of other people and things. When we do that – when we pretend that FaceTime is a legitimate substitute for actual face time just so we don’t have to actually deal with how much we need the latter or we blame systems and external groups for our faults without looking at the issues within our own homes – we just let the problems take us down from the inside.
There is no doubt that there are external – by which I mean outside of the individual or family – issues in the world. There always have been, and there always will be. It’s one of the more negative results of our humanity. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look to address those flaws or that we should dismiss them as inevitable. That’s not the answer either. What I would say is that we can do more to fix those issues by working on ourselves and those close to us than we can by more global, or large-scale, means. What this really comes down to is our human nature. Are we naturally flawed human beings that will wreak havoc no matter the setting in which we are placed? Or are we only flawed because of our surroundings? Is there a perfect system somewhere out there that would end everything that we ever do wrong? I think it’s the former, and, again, that doesn’t mean that we just accept that there will be flaws and do nothing. We attack those flaws with as much energy as possible because we know they are and will be there. We are deeply flawed, and that means that we have to try a heck of a lot harder to live good lives. Our goal becomes being as good as possible in each moment we have. We’re not going to win each one, but if we all put enough energy into winning as often as we can on an individual basis, then those wins will build up and eventually influence the system rather than the other way around. There’s only so much that we can do on an external level if we fail to adequately address all of the individuals that together create the group that interacts with the outside world.
Let me try to put that a different way that may or may not make sense because the rambling clears my head. It’s a flawed metaphor but I think there’s something to it. We store fruit in bags or containers when we put it in the fridge. Eventually, if it’s in there long enough, the fruit will start to go bad despite the packaging. Just like someone in a group of people of any size will, eventually, screw things up no matter what setting they’re placed in. There is no possible way to store fruit in a fridge forever, and there is no perfect utopia because we are naturally flawed beings. We go bad much like fruit (yes there are obvious differences here that I’ll get to in a second). Now, if the fruit starts to go bad, we don’t throw out the entire container or assume that the storage system was wrong. We deal with the specific pieces of fruit that have gone bad. We recognize that the issue is a natural occurrence with the fruit and we fix the issue when it pops up. We don’t look at spoiled fruit and say “Maybe I won’t get sick”, but we also don’t look at spoiled fruit and decide to never buy fruit again. At first, this is going to seem nonsensical. We fix the issue by throwing out the old fruit and buying new fruit. We obviously can’t do that with people, but people, thankfully, have the ability to recover from going bad. We can change ourselves without dying and being replaced. It’s a good feature. And that recovery comes when we address the issue that caused us to go bad. With fruit, the issue is age. It was in the fridge for too long, and now we need to replace it. With us, the issue is never that simple, but we should still attack it with that same mindset. There is an issue here. I can and need to do my best to fix it, but I simply cannot change the fact that I am struggling or that I will struggle. Just like the next batch of fruit will spoil, I’m going to mess up again. The key is noticing something is wrong before I’ve taken a few bites.
That is where other people can come in handy – pointing out flaws that we may not see ourselves. The issue is that other people cannot fix our problems for us. This goes back to the point about the system. You can create a new system, but you’ve still got the same messed up people living in it because external pressure, especially when it comes from those we don’t know, won’t convince many individuals to change. You can scream in someone’s face all you want, but the change will always need to come from within our minds and within our homes.
There’s a line from the Gospel that essentially says this – let he who has not sinned cast the first stone. It might appear that this is telling us to avoid criticizing another’s flaws when we have flaws of our own – and that’s not always a terrible idea. But that’s not a complete or perfect message, and it misses the point. Casting a stone is not simply throwing around criticism. Stoning ended, and today would still end, in death. The message is this – do not immediately kill one’s dignity or permanently tarnish their soul because they committed a wrong. If we fail to do this, there’s no way out. Everyone gets crushed by standards of perfection because those standards are simply impossible to meet. As I’ve said, the battle towards being good is one that we have to fight every day, and we can’t let past mistakes prevent us from being the best we can be in the moment. There are absolutely people that lose that battle and forfeit their dignity and their soul, but it’s still a battle that every single person deserves to fight. Our response to our failures cannot erase them, but it can allow us to move in a better direction. If we determine everything we think about a person from a failure, then we’ve taken away their ability to improve.
Let he who has sinned and received mercy afford the same treatment to those in front of him. This does not mean that we sit back and let bad things pass without comment or action because we aren’t perfect ourselves. It does mean that we need to recognize that everyone is worthy of mercy and forgiveness. This will always be a useful message, and it’s also a very hard one to grasp. I’m nowhere near that point myself. In a world where even the best of us are severely flawed, there’s going to be some terrible things that happen with a decent amount of regularity. How do you look those people in the eye and say “I forgive you”?
I don’t have the answer, but our ability to find it lies at the center of our potential to grow as a whole. If we cannot recognize that those who have wronged others, or, more importantly, us, can learn, grow, and become better people because of their wrongs, then we simply don’t have a shot. If our greatest flaw is our flawed nature, then our greatest strength is our ability to find a better version of ourselves from any point. We can always be better because we can never be perfect, and we have to recognize that truth in ourselves and in others. It not only grants us a more positive outlook on life, but it allows us to grapple with the bad things that we all do. Yes, [insert any number of people, historical and otherwise, here] did this, and it was a terrible thing. But they also did this, this, and this, and those things led to so much good. Emphasize the good while acknowledging and moving to fix the bad when we see it repeated in ourselves because that is the best that we can do. Believing that we are not naturally flawed – or that we can obtain perfection – is always going to lead to disappointment, and that disappointment can create far more serious reactions.
I want to quickly go back to something I mentioned earlier to build on that point. We can be more likely to attack the flaws of the group and of others than we are to attack our own. This doesn’t make us bad; the eye that looks inward is rarely as sharp as the two eyes that look at everyone else. It’s also a whole lot easier to say that this person screwed up because we don’t have to fix their problems. That process is on them. But it does exacerbate the problem above. If we see and call out all of the flaws of everyone around us and skirt around our own, it becomes easier to believe that there is a perfect world out there. If everyone else would just get their stuff together, we’d be good.
To put it simply, we cannot allow the flaws of others to distract us from our own. Both need to be fixed, but only one can be fixed by you or me. If every single one of us gives all we have to bringing the best version of ourselves to the table today, tomorrow, and for however much time we have left, then we will create a better world. It’s as simple, and difficult, as that. Because leading by example is a far better argument than anything we can do with our voices.
Chris Webber said something yesterday that stuck with me. “You can’t be something til you see it.” I don’t want to be what I see today when I look around the world or the country, and there are people that see far worse things than I do. What message are we sending to each other with our actions? What message are we sending to the forgotten areas of this country when we stay away and allow their problems to fester while talking about how someone ought to fix those issues? Changing that doesn’t start with “them”. It starts with me. It starts with me making a commitment to be the best person that I can be in every moment. It starts with me acknowledging my faults. It starts with me recognizing when I go bad and making sure to address it the next chance I have. Because if I can’t claim those things, then what the heck am I doing talking about someone else. We all need to make that commitment. We – me, you, and everyone else – need to stop chirping from a rundown seat. All of the seats are the problem, not just the ones we’re not sitting on.
I want to end by going back to the Gospel. Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone. The basic message is to avoid throwing stones, for everyone deserves mercy. But there’s something else we can take away from this if we turn it around. The conclusion is to not throw stones, but you only reach this point by realizing that the person who has not sinned does not exist. We’re all screwed up. We’re greedy. We’re selfish. We care about trivial things and ignore meaningful things. We get way too angry. We turn away from the people that we need. We struggle to look beyond the moment when we get upset. We seek short-term pleasure over long term fulfillment. We hurt each other in so many ways. We’re cruel. We’re dishonest. We lack respect, patience, humility, and so much more. Why? Because we’re human. It sucks, and it’s great because there’s no end to the progress that we can make within ourselves. Drop your stone and get to work.
And when we pick it back up again – because we will – drop it again. And again. And again. And when I drop that stone, I will give everything I have to making sure that my next moment is better than the one before.