what’s secondary to support

Today was one of those days when I was prepared to hit “post” on today’s blog selection, that I just couldn’t. Something bigger, something more significant was ongoing.

Don’t get me wrong. We have lots to talk about on all sorts of topics, but today my strong sense is we would benefit from a brief, important pivot.

Last night Iran attacked Israel.

The specific onslaught is now over; however, as we all know from a war games mentality, there remains the sobering, quiet question of who stops first.

What does retaliation look like?

Is it bigger?

Is it more?

Israel reported that Iran had launched 170 drones — more than 30 cruise missiles and 120 ballistic missiles — in their direction.

Bigger and more is alarming indeed.

Hence, today is a day when the rest of the world needs to come together. But the problem is we aren’t good at that.

Way too many of us only root for part of our country. We find enormous fault in the parties and candidates we feel we lesser align with. And because we find such evil and error in them, we not only don’t support them, we root against them. We ensure they have no perceived personal wins so that no more support for them materializes. 

All one has to do is look at our collective behavior directed toward the two most recent presidents. Most are collectively awful to at least one of them. Sorry, friends… it is my clear conclusion — and this is a perspective shared by what I believe to be a muted but massive majority — that there are unique, but serious weaknesses and liabilities held by both Presidents Biden and Trump.

But lest we digress, here’s my point.

Today, praying the regional tensions can be diffused — and — the tension can be restricted to regional, Pres. Biden is calling a meeting of the Group of Seven advanced democracies “to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack.”

We need Pres. Biden to lead well today… and tomorrow… regardless of how we ideologically or even emotionally align.

Lead well, Mr. President. You have my support.

My opinions and preferences are secondary to what you need to do.

Respectfully…

AR 

learning that transcends the sports world

So since it’s one of my all-time favorite topics, allow me a bit more rumination… but also, as certainly almost always, allow us to apply the learning to far more than any sport, game or event of potentially perceived less significant meaning.

As the Purdue men’s basketball team walked off the court the other evening, showered by confetti intended to honor someone other than them, March’s madness came to an end at least in college basketball. Congrats to UConn’s Huskies, the dominant victor in 2024.

In an incredible season of their own, my esteemed alma mater came in second. Here’s what we learned, indeed transcending the sports world…

First, success comes in all sorts of packages. Sometimes I think we miss out on the superfluity of success in both self and others because we’ve too narrowed the definition of what success is and what it is not. Too often we’ve crafted a discernment barometer that measures outcome and accomplishment based on how we compare to someone else. And because we are not someone else, we are either lesser or more. I think our measurement of success is way too finite. 

Purdue did not win it all in 2024. But suffice it to say, of the other 350 schools that are full members of Division I basketball conferences, 349 of them wish they were in Purdue’s shoes today. What a great, fantastic, successful year. Success is not limited to a few.

Look, too, on the women’s side, which saw South Carolina again cut down the nets. Caitlin Clark’s Iowa, like Purdue, was the runner up. But Clark ends her season and college career not only as the NCAA Division I all-time leading scorer, but also as one who has generated unparalleled contemporary interest in women’s basketball. That, even as a runner up, is unquestionably successful.

The stories are more. Some with noted, lesser media attention. Successful nonetheless.

Second, to be concise, quoting one of the more iconic poets of our time (thank you, Taylor),  “The players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” It is fascinating to me the plethora of people who create copious cause to loathe a player on the court. There’s just something about them we don’t like.

Something they’ve said… a way they reacted… maybe just the way they play. We don’t like it. It — they — are annoying. Hence we justify the hate. Let me just say this… For the far majority of athletes, and yes, I mean the far majority, we have very little proximity. We have incredibly limited perspective. And we are basing our self-crafted hatred on an incredibly small sample size.

I get not wanting someone to do well — especially if they’re on the other team — but hatred of a player typically says more about a lack of discernment in those who feel so emboldened to judge freely.

(For the record, while I am unaware of any current abhorrence, let me extend my sincerest apologies for previous behavior in my youth directed toward Indiana University, the Dukies, and any and all teams associated with Tom Brady. Yes, sorry… I’m wiser now.)

Third and lastly, no less, there is one more key learning from my beloved Boilermakers failure to win the coveted NCAA crown. Yes, that’s a tad on the dramatic side…

But it’s true. We failed. We did not achieve our ultimate goal. We were not the featured stars in the annual “One Shining Moment.” With the champagne chilling in anticipation of a more favorable end result, to say me and my family were disappointed is indeed a significant understatement. I was sad that we did not win.

But…

Just because I feel one emotion strongly doesn’t negate my ability to feel another emotion, potentially even more. Wow… I wish we would have won on Monday night! But… know what I feel even more deeply today? 

A deep, permeating sense of gratitude for a group of young men who played their hearts out, were respectful to those around them, and gave me more to celebrate in college basketball than ever before in my lifetime. That, my friends, is incredibly joyful. And nothing in the above or in the actual outcome changes how I feel.

There’s always so much to learn…

Far beyond the sports world.

Respectfully…

AR

harder to hate them

The following is the best thing I read last month. It’s an op-ed by the “sane, hilarious voice” of Ben Kawaller, an L.A.-based writer and Free Press contributor who believes in good-faith debate and the importance of finding consensus in our polarized times. He is on a mission to understand our country’s division. 

He is wise. He is funny. Here is his mid-March contribution, entitled, “It’s Harder to Hate the Other Side When You Come Face to Face”:

* * * * *

I recently went to Mardi Gras and spent a couple days committing the ultimate faux pas: talking politics at a party. Knowing that in vino veritas—or at least, in vino ludicrum (thank you, Google Translate)—my plan was to ask people, in their inebriation, what they would change about America if they were in charge. I figured these interrogations would yield some insights into the collective psyche of a polarized nation.

The primary insight: what polarized nation? Polarized suggests a clustering around the extremes—and while I spoke to a few enthusiastically left- and right-wing partygoers, they were at least matched by people describing themselves as moderate, independent, or completely disengaged. And many of the partisans were lukewarm. One black gay guy described himself as ‘liberal. . . ish.’ When I guessed that one twentysomething boatyard worker from Maine leaned conservative he said, ‘Meh. Sure.’ One elderly black woman who loved Obama and JFK resisted the label liberal entirely, as did two local high school seniors, though they rejected the word conservative as well (‘I feel like that’s just so aggressive.’). When I asked another woman if she was conservative, she was stunned (though her reflexes seemed generally dulled). ‘I’m gay!’ she told me. Did that mean she was a liberal? “I don’t know,” she slurred, then added, ‘Your camerawoman’s kinda hot.’ This was hardly a population seething with pre–civil war rage. 

Perhaps that’s no shocker—this was a bacchanal, not a constitutional convention—but you would think that if we were on the brink of a ‘national divorce,’ at least someone would have said something like, ‘The problem is liberals,’ or ‘Everything would be great without Republicans.’ In fact, the overwhelming response to ‘How do we fix America?’ was a plea for greater kindness and less division. 

It was gratifying, as someone generally critical of the left’s culture wars, to see my own opinions so gloriously reflected by these people on the street. For instance, when I asked six self-identified liberals what the left gets wrong, two interviewees (both of them black) specifically cited ‘racism’ and ‘race-baiting.’ It was quite something, I thought, that in 2024 any African American should feel the need to remind his fellow liberals that ‘We’re all human.’

Other critiques were similar. ‘We can be sanctimonious,’ one liberal-leaning voter told me. Another leftist lamented the inability to ‘relate to each other as individuals.’ Another cited ‘cancel culture,’ suggesting that the left is too ‘inclusive’ of ‘over-thinkers.’ I would call them jerks. 

I got less self-critique from the right, but they’ve always been savvier at this kind of thing. If it’s self-flagellation you’re after, nothing beats Democrats.

Was I conducting a rigorous piece of political science? No, I was shooting the breeze with drunk people. But more serious adults have researched the psychology of our electorate, and their findings echo my own suspicions: that most Americans make up an ‘exhausted majority‘ whose views aren’t represented either by the orthodox left or the far right. The amplification of those extremes—and, I would argue, a craven kowtowing among the political right and the cultural left to each group’s most radical elements—gives an impression of a nation more ‘polarized’ than it actually is. 

My trip to New Orleans was the first in a series of stops I’ll be making around the country over 2024 to understand how people’s political identities (or lack thereof) are affected by this year’s face-off between two deeply unpopular heads of two increasingly unpopular parties. I hope to find out what real Americans actually think. And, as I have always thought of myself as a healer of nations, I hope to help bridge some of our supposed divides.

Or at least not make things any worse.

* * * * *

Ben will be making regular reports across the country for the Free Press this year. Looks like it will be wise to tune in.

Respectfully…

AR

sitting in it

What do we do with the bad stuff?

How do we handle the hard?

Allow me to slightly alter a recent response by an influential leader, with a live mic in front of him at a very public moment in time…

You have to sit in it. You have to take it. Sometimes when you sit in it, and you’re honest with yourselves and you take it, some great things can happen.

Let’s briefly examine the included components…

You have to sit in it… meaning you have to acknowledge reality. 

You have to take it… meaning you have to let yourself feel it; it doesn’t do any good nor is it healthy or effective to numb the pain.

And you have to be honest… meaning don’t paint a different story, don’t shift the blame onto someone else, and don’t play any sort of victim. You have to deal with it.

If you do that, some great things can happen.

The other simultaneous truth is that sitting in past hurt doesn’t preclude experiencing present joy.

Hence, we come to one of my favorite topics. And while some may not share the zeal nor extent of the specific fandom, it’s indeed true that there are so many places where the realities of life and the nature of sports mirror one another. It’s as if God set this world up to give us all sorts of creative ways to learn about ourselves, in one arena after another.

The above altered quote comes from none other than Matt Painter, head men’s basketball coach at Purdue. Noting the lack of universally shared zeal, allow me to quickly provide a bit of a Cliff Notes context…

Purdue has been very good for very many years. In fact, in the last 44 years, they’ve won precisely 958 games, 11 regular season conference titles, 2 league tournaments and have had only 5 losing seasons. Suffice it to say, they’ve been consistently great. In the regular season only. They haven’t been to the Final Four since 1980. They’ve faced multiple uncanny, untimely injuries, season-ending heartbreaks and losses to less prominent, double digit seeds… with last year, for the Purdue fan, being the dreaded worst. 

Believed to be a serious championship contender, they did the unthinkable, in a circumstance that had occurred only one time prior in the tournament. As a top 1-seed, they lost to a bottom 16-seed, to a team that barely made the tournament. In addition to rare and unthinkable, it was painful and hard.

So Coach had to lead these impressionable 18-22 year old men to face their hard. To “sit in it,” if you will. To sit in adversity. It happens to each of us, all of us, in far more than in any so-called game. The wisest in life learn to navigate the hard in a healthy way.

What a lesson. And what a lesson that transcends any sport.

On Sunday the Purdue men’s basketball team won their 33rd game of the season and punched their ticket to the 2024 NCAA Final Four, the first time since 1980.

The players, former players, alumni and fans experienced almost unspeakable, tremendous glee. The Atlantic called it “a cathartic win 44 years in the making.” Indeed. Wide support from college coaches across the country has been pouring in, for both Purdue and Painter, believing the latter is a great coach and an even better person, a humble man who does things the “right way”… Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Gonzaga’s Mark Few, former Villanova coach Jay Wright. Tweeted, too, by longtime CBS analyst Seth Davis after Sunday’s win: “Could not be happier for Boiler Nation. Some of the most passionate, loyal and long suffering fans in all of sports. Your long wait is OVER…”

Don’t let me act as if everyone’s rooting for Purdue. Fans have teams they like — teams they don’t. That’s ok.

But the bigger lesson remains true. If we sit in the hard and deal with it in an honest, healthy way, some great things can happen… no matter what arena we play in.

Respectfully…

AR