Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Paying Tribute

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Boxing Gloves

Listening to the tributes pour in for Muhammed Ali earlier this year, I was thinking about what kind of person gets tributes.

I wonder if the first type of person doesn’t necessarily seek tributes.  Instead, as they follow their passion, they come up against people who don’t like what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, why they’re doing it or even who they are.  But they continue to follow their passion to do whatever it is they’re doing even as they both gain admirers and haters.  These people are eventually recongized for being the best at what they’ve done not only because their passion has honed that perfection, but because they’ve done it in the face of those who hate everything about them.  And a key element seems to be that a lot of people must hate them.

A segment of our culture reserves the highest rewards for those who not only surmount the professional obstacles, but almost as important, overcomes the obstacle of the rest of us.

Meanwhile, I wonder if the second type of person seeks tributes and doesn’t have any shame in how they get them or who gives them.  Whether it means being the loudest black, women, jew, hispanic, muslim, lgbt or homeless hater, or whether it means doing hurtful things to those people in the dark, or whether it means always “Me first”, this second type of person is about expediency, not morality.  What is the quickest way they can be known for something, since to that point they may have never been seen or known or acknowledged for anything.  They will twist all we supposedly call sacred into a banal justification of every perversion just so they can feel people are paying attention to them.  A key element is that they seem to need a lot of people to notice them.

A segment of our culture reveres these people too because evil is easy and cruel is pile-on fun.  Burn a church, deface a monument, spray obscenities, slash some tires and they can feel alive and not the weak, festering lump they are locked inside.

I’ve often thought about the concept of First Cause, and I haven’t yet heard a good argument that counters the thinking that every good thing we humans conceive is a response to something hideous we thought of first.  All the non-profits, corrective laws and religous edicts that we employ to fix our failings always seem to be in pursuit of, not in front of on par with, those failings.  It makes me wonder which is easiest for us to be; kind or cruel?

What are we?

Muhammed Ali’s first cause was, reportedly, to become a boxer because he wanted revenge for a stolen bike and a cop told him to channel that anger to the ring.  As he was laid to rest, a lifetime of good wiped out that incentive of anger.  But his work was consistent, not the two steps forward, one step back, constantly relearning kind – constantly unlearning bigorty wheel we seem to be stuck on.  I wonder why the world is never lacking for people who carry their fear and hate like a cold stone at the center of their chests with no goal but to be the best thing they can be, even if that thing is putrid.

When I feel a little overwhelmed like this, and I need a little hope, I think … Thank God for babies.

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Written by Interviewer

August 15, 2016 at 23:58

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