Little Things Make a Big Difference

Today was the 25th anniversary of a high school friend losing his mother.  He recalls learning of his mothers’ passing in 1987, sitting in front of a classroom door…recalling it “as if it happened yesterday.”  I was reminded of this somewhat by accident.  I don’t remember the day – for me it sits in the back of my mind as just another day in late junior year of high school.  For him, his whole world changed.

What strikes me about this is that he tells me, “You were there that day.   I really appreciated your genuineness. Little things make a big difference, and you did make a difference for me that day. You may not even remember. But I do.”  I don’t remember.  I can’t imagine my 17-year-old self having any degree of genuiness in sharing grief with another young man whose world had just changed.

I didn’t dare ask him for details – he was reliving a grief on the anniversary of his mother’s passing, and it was not about me – but I have to admit wanting to know what I could possibly have said or demonstrated to him to have caused him to recall a genuine response and to have made a difference for this young man.  This was at a point in my life when nothing truly bad had ever happened to me.  I had both grandfathers pass away within months of each other when I was but 8-years old, but other than that my life was relatively untouched by trauma.  I had no point of reference, and no word in my vocabulary for “empathy,” never mind a true ability to demonstrate it.  I apparently had said or done something right at the right time.

I have no idea what it could have been, but he remembers it…and says that I made a difference.  I’m not sure I know how that makes me feel.  I don’t know if I should take pride in knowing that at some point in my life I have made a difference for one person at one point in time, or I should be ashamed not to know what it was.  I had to triangulate a bit to realize that I would have been there, and I felt badly not to have remembered what surely would have been significant news in our small high school – I can’t remember an announcement, nothing.  But there I apparently was.  Wednesday, March 27, 1987.

I’m still not sure I know how I feel about failing to remember, but it does speak to this truth: you never know what small gesture will live on behind you, whether or not you remember.  Kindness and, indeed, slights, can be remembered a long time and it is a choice we continuously make in choosing our path.  I can’t believe he would have remembered something that surely was but a small gesture, especially given the magnitude of the experience for him, but he does which only makes it that much more important to remember to demonstrate kindness – no matter how small – to someone at any chance you can.  When else can a small gesture, a small emotional investment, and brief time commitment live on for 25 years or longer?  When thought about in these terms, however that genuiness took shape all those years ago it could have only lasted a few moments – a few moments which were fleeting moments of time regardless of how they were spent – but those moments live on.  An exponential return of time for a few wisely spent moments by a then young man, and recalled not at all by the now middle-aged man.

Little things mean a lot – a point driven home once again.

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Dying as a Life Lesson

I think about  my dad a lot.  I can’t believe it’s been almost 4-years since he passed away – 4 years – and there’s not really a day that goes by that I don’t think about him in some manner, shape, or form.

He wasn’t “taken” from me, although I do think he left us before his time.   I know people who have had their loved ones taken from them, and I cannot imagine the pain of all that unfinished business.

He slowly grew older, and weaker, and time and his body just caught up.  Most likely his most important lesson to me was his last.  While we’re growing up, a parents’ role is to give you the tools you need to be an adult.  Some of us do better imparting that knowledge, and those skills better than others, but by and large that’s a parent’s job.  The very last thing he did was show me how to grow older and how to die.

Seems a morbid thing, but truly, that too is an important job of a parent.  He faced his illness, made the decisions he felt he had to make regarding his treatment and he knew when enough was enough.  When blood transfusions could not replace the blood cells his body was losing , and it was clear that treatment was really just prolonging the inevitable, he decided it was time to stop fighting.  He had spent a lifetime arranging his affairs, and it was time.

He was a remarkable man and I hope that I have the strength and the force of character to face my own mortality as he did.  He was a role model to me in so many ways and looking back, it really didn’t surprise me that he handled his situation as he did.  He accepted his fate long before I did, and he showed me the way.  It takes a very special person to do that, and I thank him for giving me that example.

I don’t get to his grave nearly enough, but I do speak to him every day even if it is just in passing.  How many times could I have used his advice and guidance over the last 3+ years?  Almost every day, but I have also applied lessons he gave me almost every day too.  He gave me the tools, sometimes I have to reach back an apply them, but he gave them to me. Oftentimes, I would be much better off if I more actively practiced his lessons, but because of him there has never been a situation I have been unable to handle.

I love you, Dad, and yeah, I still miss you like crazy.  I wish there was some way I could let you know somehow how truly special and important a person you were.  I hope I can do so in giving your grandchildren the example you gave me.

Googling.

In 2006, the verb “To Google” entered the Oxford English Dictionary.  I know this because I googled the definition.  One wonders if “Google” has entered the realm of “Xerox,” “Kleenex,” “Kool-Aid” and “Scotch Tape.”  Its funny how language develops.

“Google” is a thoroughly made up word, a malaprop of “googol” – 10,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000 –  chosen ultimately because the .com domain was available.   It gained its meaning because of the power of the Google algorithms in finding information on the web – their approach was so different from other search engines, it allowed for differentiating names from other entries.  The difficulty of differentiating a product or service to such a degree the best way to describe it is to use its own name in a self-referential cycle.

One might think this would be an exceptional thing for a company – to have its name become so familiar that it becomes part of our everyday lexicon – but to the corporate types it represents a threat to the control of the name.  Quite the conundrum that.

Advertisers spend so much time and money to differentiate their product.  Google spent almost no money and wound up with the same result.

I know, this is old news, but it got me thinking.

Introverts and Writing

I spend a lot of time in my own head.  Its a trait of the introverted.  It gives me time to regroup, think things over, gain a little understanding.  Sometimes, though, the net effect is that people around me think I’m checked out, or that I’m distant or don’t care.  I really do like parties, but I prefer to spend time with people one-on-one.  I’m not anti-social – far from it – however the energy it takes to handle interacting with large groups of people takes me a lot of time to rejuvenate.

I also struggle a lot with self-confidence.  I had a hard time speaking up for fear of looking foolish – even when I have specific, well founded ideas.  I worry about finding the right word to get my point across, and because I’m spending time searching for those words it frustrates people while they wait for me to get that word.  Most people are satisfied with the word that’s “close enough,” but that’s not me…I’ve learned that if I’m not specific, I spend more time explaining nuance.  Nuance which is then lost on most people.

Writing is always a good means to get thoughts out of my head – I can take the time to be reasonably specific, take the time to sort through my thoughts, and reach out to the outside world.  The problem is, sometimes, no matter how much I’ve thought about something, I just can’t come up with something to write.  Imagine that – spending so much time in my own head, and I don’t have anything to say.

I can be a text book case study of an introvert.  I’m told I have a unique point of view, that I process information differently than others.  I make connections that others don’t.

With Introverted Intuition dominating their personality, INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas. (http://www.personalitypage.com/INTJ.html)

That’s pretty much me.

So, with all of that as introduction, I’ve got nothing.  No interesting connections, no funny observations, and no ideas.  Just a lot of nothing…I guess I’ll just have to think about that.

The Intuition of Batting Average

One of the most intuitive aspects of the game of baseball is the concept of ‘Batting Average.’ It’s as simple and intuitive as the game itself: Number of Hits divided by the number of At-Bats. It’s a serviceable construct of measuring a batters’ hitting prowess.

One of the curious things about “batting average” is that while it’s quite possibly the most intuitive measurement in the game of baseball, and hence it was one of the first measurements of the game, it wasn’t created until baseball had been organized for almost two decades.

Harry Chadwick, a Britton who found himself enamored by early baseball in the 1850’s while he was covering cricket as a journalist.# Chadwick came to develop the first baseball box score and edited theThe Beadle Baseball Player the first baseball guide for public consumption.# He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 by the veteran’s committee.

Growing up in the late 20th Century, batting average has always been that hits/at-bats ratio and has always been reported to the thousandths decimal place. It feels so completely intuitive and so perfect for the game. However, as intuitive as it may be, it relies on two other statistics which had to be developed first – “hits” and “at-bats.” The elemental nature of these statistics reveal how far the game has come, and how non-intuitive the measurements of the game are.

When the Batting Average was formally adopted in 1876, it took the form of the statistic we know today, however prior to being formally adopted, it was actually a measurement of the number of hits per game. Of course the definition of these elemental statistics have changed and have therefore influenced the measurement of a batting average: for instance, for a year in the late 1800’s, bases-on-balls were counted as hits and plate appearances, which had the effect of driving up batting averages for that year – many up near .500 – and it was discontinued for the following season.# Increase the number of hits to plate appearances using a 1:1 ratio and you’re going to increase batting average, even though it does not reflect the batter’s skill at hitting. The idea, however, was to measure what was going on at plate appearances. Of course, at the time, it took 5-balls to receive a base-on-balls and 4-strikes to strike out.#

Consider the work involved in building the game we know today, a game that is ever more statistically oriented – particularly with the advent of ever faster computers – and it just doesn’t seem as intuitive. The builders of baseball didn’t know what they should be measuring, but they knew the game could be quantified. That’s the intuitive part of the game – it can be quantified, but figuring out how or what to measure is the difficult part.

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Chadwick_(writer) retrieved on 10/10/2010

http://www.ulib.niu.edu/badndp/chadwick_henry.html retrieved on 10/10/2010

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batting_average retrieved 10/10/2010

http://everything2.com/title/Evolution+of+pitching+rules retrieved 10/10/2010

http://www.cosmicbaseball.com/bstats17.html retrieved 10/10/2010

Power of Symbols

The day after Superbowl XLII, a game lost by the New England Patriots in the last 90 seconds after an 18-0 season, I wore a winter jacket emblazoned with the “Flying Elvis” logo of the team. I would have worn it if they won, and I hated the thought of being a hypocrite – for me supporting my team isn’t about associating myself with winning. For the love of God, I’m a middle-aged Red Sox fan – I know for a fact it’s a lot more fun to associate yourself with winning than with losing, but for the majority of my life associating myself with the Red Sox was more about humilation. In fact, Massachusetts released Red Sox license plates in 2003. I got mine just before the whole Grady Little/Pedro Martinez blunder in Game 7 of the ALCS. There I was driving around wearing shame on my car for an entire year.

There was a point at which I was heavy into flags. I acquired all kinds of flags to display outside – countries I’d visited, sports championships, historical flags. One of my favorite ones was the yellowGadsden flag. I had begun displaying it in support of the US armed forces and as a message of defiance to those who would do harm to this country.

Funny thing about symbols and flags, though. A symbol replaces words. It holds meaning to those who display it and who observe it, but those meanings may not be the same and what we take from those can be very different. For me, when I fly an American flag, I’m proud of my country and for what it stands. I am proud of our system of law, I am proud a country of this size and power can transition political power will a ballot cast by the people and not at the mouth of a rifle. In many countries, vacuums of power typically follow transitions of leadership wherein despots and others will take the opportunity to seize it. This is a message I am proud to make.

However, for people in other parts of the world, it can be a symbol of oppression and of violence – whether that is right or wrong. When you choose to accept a symbol, you choose all connotations of that symbol. I fly the American flag because I accept all connotations, can and will argue with those who express a negative association with it.

Sadly, there are those who choose to appropriate symbols to increase the credibility of their own cause and to create the perception of a cohesive message in lieu of actually having a cohesive message.

I no longer fly that Gadsden flag. It is a message several centuries old and for me the meaning of which is rooted in the earliest history of the United States. However, the political opportunists associated with the Tea Party have appropriated the meaning of the flag – at least for now, after all the flag itself is a couple hundred years old. The Tea Party is a movement with no true cohesion, no formal set of guiding principals, and no structure of which to speak. The Gadsden flag gives meaning to a structure without meaning on its own. Since I don’t know what meanings and associations I’m taking on when I associate myself with it, I choose not to make any statement with the flag.

You cannot pick and choose what meaning you’re advocating when displaying a symbol – you accept them all, which is what makes a symbol so powerful, but interestingly not displaying a symbol can be just as powerful.

Earlier this month, we were asked to wear the color purple to memorialize and support several students who had committed suicide after prolonged bullying. Imagine feeling so hopeless and so helpless that you feel the only way to escape the daily torment is to kill yourself. I was never the popular kid, but I never – not once – felt so out of control that I felt I had to take drastic measure to escape. There are few things I support in life more than the equality of all people and their right to be themselves – indeed, see my thoughts above regarding my flag. No child should be emotionally tortured because their sexual orientation may not be “traditional.”

However, I chose not to participate. By choosing not to participate, I was not rejecting the premise and not rejecting the support of those who may need it. I was rejecting the notion that this was the only way in which we acknowledge our caring. The color purple means nothing to me – I have no basis on which to draw an association between purple and anti-bullying. If I do not understand the associations behind the symbol, I’m not sure I’m willing to display the symbol. It doesn’t I don’t support those being bullied. It means that I’m not bought into the symbol and it’s meaning. Much like those who associate meaning for the Tea Party with the Gadsden Flag – they don’t know what they’re buying when they display the flag in general or with the Tea Party in specific, they just know they’re pissed off.

I’m pissed off that a child feels the only way out of a bad situation is to kill him or herself. I’m pissed off that the adults in these kids’ lives are either so oblivious or don’t care enough to find out what is going on in their lives, that those adults haven’t created a situation where that child feels safe telling them about their trouble. I’m pissed that the adults in these kids lives have allowed these children’s peers to gain social power in a culture of violence. I’m pissed that bullies have been empowered to do their deed unchecked.

I feel sad for these kids. I don’t know that I need to display purple to express this. I’m not even sure you could get a consistent definition of “bullying” from those who did participate. We do more to support the victims of bullying by not tolerating bad behavior, by confronting bullying behavior when we see it, and by building a trusting relationship through our own behavior and by taking responsibility to exercise control in a situation. Wearing the purple symbol is fine, but it means nothing if you don’t modify your own behavior.

Symbols are powerful in their capacity to express a meaning. When displaying a symbol one must be sure of the meaning being expressed. Be conscious of the symbols you choose to display, but when you do choose to display them, display them proudly and live to the meaning – even if it’s just supporting your football team.

Why History Matters in Sport

In an age where “epic” has come to mean something quite clearly less than its formal definition – it now means a fantastic night out as opposed to a civilization defining moment – indicating a societal disconnect with the past, our professional sports constantly remind us of their respective histories and where the current day matches up. We look to ritual and history to compare our place in the world and to provide reassurance of lasting importance.

Lord Stanley’s Cup is the oldest trophy in North American sport, dating back to 1892, predating even the current National Hockey League (NHL) the league which awards it to its champion. The NHL markets it’s “Original Six” as the foundation of the league that today numbers 30 teams, in such far flung locations as Anaheim, California and Charlotte, North Carolina. The National Football League ensures we know just how many Super Bowls have been played by adding Roman numeral nomenclature to each game. The crests of MLB’s National League prominently displays the year “1876” as a reminder of its founding.

It becomes a means by which each game reassures us that they have a foundation and creates an expectation of its continued existence. The period of time to which the “Original Six” refers was a time of stability in the NHL, the longest period of stability in the league’s existence. No team folded, relocated, changed its name. With the expansion of the league in 1967, the landscape of the game changed ‘” the league doubled in size ‘” and by the early 1970s, some of those expansion teams began to move and financially struggle. There was a need to reassure the fan base that these transitions did not threaten the game. Note the NHL does not promote the actual age of the Stanley Cup ‘” far older than any of the “Original Six” teams – but promotes the league and the game through referencing the history of the franchises.

The Super Bowl did not begin to bear nomenclature until the third game, with the previous games retroactively numbered. The game itself was a championship between two rival leagues and it was not until a merger was planned that the number of these games would be significant – this was a game that would remain, so become invested in it. To this day, the Super Bowl represents the National Football League, a league with a history of team movement, bankruptcy, and failed franchises with little by way of stability. The “big game” is the history upon which the NFL predominantly relies although it protects its history where that history is important: When the Cleveland Browns pulled up stakes to move to Baltimore, the city kept the name “Browns” for a future incarnation of the team; Thanksgiving Day games are still played in Detroit and Dallas every year because that is where they have always been played, regardless of how good or bad either the Lions or Cowboys are. The Detroit Thanksgiving Day game reaches back to the founding of the league, demonstrating the importance of ritual and history.

Professional baseball in the United States needs little overt reference to history ‘” until the league expanded in the 1960’s, the two leagues remained stable over 60 years. There was no question the time honored game would remain. There is no overt reference to the number of World Series that have been played ‘” it’s always been a part of the American landscape. Almost to the point where the games history and ritual becomes a hindrance to modernization ‘” when the league announced a plan to include advertising for a Spider-Man movie on the bases in 2004, a controversy erupted. Nothing had ever been displayed on the bases themselves. The game itself is steeped in history.

We compare records, review historic trends, and measure our current players and teams against those which have come before. It doesn’t matter that two of the “Original Six” have won the Stanley Cup only once since 1993. What matters is that the framework and context is set such that we can refer to that history and to hold onto it. It matters that we can look back at the New England Patriots chasing a “perfect season” and compare their run to that of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. It matters that when we hunker down in mid-winter to watch the “Big Game” that there have been some 40-odd contests which have come before, because we know we’ll be right back here next year at about the same time.