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Rebuttal: Face Painters, Spectators and Couch Potaters. (*Should* We All Be Witnesses?)

[4-minute read]

Two days ago, I wrote praising the ongoing excellence of a little-known sporting dynasty in Ottawa, Canada, my city. (They are called the Carleton Ravens. They have achieved an astoundingly effective process, and their results are unprecedented.) I also lamented how little Ottawa appeared to care about their less-than-mobbed return from the U SPORTS national championship in Halifax earlier this week. I’ve been thinking. I write in modest (and partial) rebuttal of Wednesday’s post.¹

¹ The great writer on education and culture, Neil Postman, wrote a book early in his career called Teaching as a Subversive Activity. A few years later, he replied to himself with Teaching as a Conserving Activity. He once wrote that even his book-length arguments could end, “On the other hand…”

Where the hell *is* everybody? I’ve asked at Ravens home games, at national championship finals, and last Monday, as I watched video of the Carleton crew descending an escalator in the Ottawa airport. I don’t mind being in the minority; heck, I have several areas of my life where I’m enthusiastic about things that aren’t exactly trending. (German films. Canadian literature. The St. Paul High Golden Bears. The Book of Certitude. I could go on.) Still, it wrankles, how little respect is given to the furious brilliance shining from a modest gymnasium in south Ottawa. But then, hold on a minute: why *should* we measure the worth of something by how many eyeballs are on it?

Why *should* we reflexively insist that if something is good, the rest of us should all WATCH? My old mentor/buddy Don loved to say, “I could watch somebody do anything, as long as they were the best in the world!” This is still an interesting idea to me, though it was not true in practice; the range of things he paid his quiet, careful attention to didn’t stray too far from baseball, Garth Brooks and basketball. But the point – really the foundation of the whole professional sports enterprise – is that when somebody is superb at what they do, the rest of us should siddown and *watch*. Well, at least if it’s a sport; not much of an audience for watching a brilliant mathematician at a blackboard, or an outstanding chemist in her lab.

Maybe this is not ideal, as fine a player as LBJ has been.

More possibly over-serious questions: Why *should* we “all be witnesses”, as the sky-high Nike billboards for LeBron James would have us do? Wouldn’t it be better to *emulate* excellence, to be inspired by it to DO OUR THING in the same spirit? This may come closer to the way that Dave Smart, the Carleton U coach, thinks about it. I doubt he fires pep talks at Carleton students, trying to get them and their cowbells and their painted faces out for Friday and Saturday night home games. He pays little attention to the crowd experience, and other than picking up one of his two young boys as soon as the game is over, doesn’t acknowledge the fans. I am convinced he would detest the grind of handshaking, radio shows and alumni-flattering that is essential at big-time American colleges. At Carleton, he coaches. Simple. But part of  Smart’s coaching has always been youth development. If you stumble into the Ravens Nest on a Sunday morning, you might see him helping out with a practice for 5-8 year-olds, his little guys among them. His legendary Guardsmen youth development team has morphed into the Ottawa Elite, a series of seriously coached age-level teams inspired more or less by his basic ideals: play against the best, defend, develop skills and next-level teamwork, and learn to how to work and compete. His Ravens regularly work with them, and these teams are far more important to Smart than how full the stands are for his games

So why should I care? Why am I writing laments, as I did Wednesday, for how few people are at games or going all rah-rah at the airport when they get back from Doing The Job They Went To Halifax To Do? Or as my effervescent kitchen-mate said this morning, eyes dancing with visions of trails and trees and the perfect match of wax and snow: “Why watch basketball when you could be out skiing?” (Ah, so that’s what it was: everybody was cross-country skiing or doing yoga or otherwise self-actualizing when the Ravens arrived at the Ottawa airport. EXCELLENT!) Do we really need more spectator-sports-obsessed, doughy-middled couch spuds getting virtual joy from watching while the select few get to Actually Do Stuff? Probably not. Still, it would be nice if folks paid more attention to greatness they could see and appreciate right up close – hey, and maybe use that as inspiration to help kids know something of that thrill of getting-better.

But on a day like today, to paraphrase late-life Leonard Cohen, I want it darker, so forgive me if I darken things up a little. We’ve all heard the grim news from New Zealand, which makes my knickers-twisting complaints about attendance at the local basketball barn seem a little silly today. In the wake of ANOTHER of those dreadful reports, this time of mosques targeted in Christchurch, where a “man” crucially starved of education and morality live-streamed his hateful assault on worshipping Muslims, yes, maybe this is a good day to say it. Don’t watch. DON’T be a spectator.

Don’t watch his twisted, narcissistic video, certainly. But maybe I can challenge my own thesis from Wednesday, and go so far as to say: Don’t watch anybody. Don’t be a spectator as life parades on by. Do good. Build a little something instead.

Comments (2)

  1. Ben Howden

    Amen! Watching is for entertainment, education and socializing. Dose accordingly.

  2. Karl

    And … be kind … be safe.

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