I’m still learning. It wasn’t long ago that I felt the need to ramp up on the meaning of ratchet. Of turnt. Of on fleek. Around the same time, I discovered the word solipsistic and challenged myself to shoehorn it into a story about baseball.
Now: I find myself Googling terms like kettling, flashbang, and dog-whistling, bracing for the definitions, and the subtext.
I'm fortunate to have the job I have. I care deeply about the people who have placed their trust and the well-being of their businesses in my care. I’m often asked to compete, and I’m good with that. I look forward to it.
But for the most part, when a two-hour or three-year competition is over, my adversary and I will shake hands, and mean it. For me, the best lawyer battles end like a Nadal-Federer match.
I'm just as lucky to be able to commit myself professionally in two other ways as well. Writing about sports doesn’t save lives and there are no scientific breakthroughs with the 27th out, but I get to tell stories about hope and competition – the kind of competition that isn’t grounded in hate (not real, deep-seated hate, at least) and that doesn’t put issues of life or liberty on the line. Instead, the healthy kind that evokes something like a mini-patriotism, a belief in and love for your team more than a hatred or hostility toward the other.
My Dad is a Sooner. One of my best friends is a Yankee fan. If sports ever divided us, it was just for three hours at a time.
Teaching came into my life 10 months ago. In my class we talk about Curt Flood and Colin Kaepernick and due process and diversity, and the students don’t always agree. That’s good; that’s not the goal. The goal is not to agree, but to have the courage to take a position – and the humility to listen and to consider. At age 20, most of them are still deciding what to keep believing in, to start believing in, or to stop believing in.
Those are worthwhile days for me.
A student emailed me yesterday and asked what I thought she should do in the face of all the chaos around us. I told her I’m in search of an answer to the same question.
I’ve never been a straight-ticket voter. It’s typically issue-by-issue for me, but lately it’s been just as much person-by-person. Decency is important to me; it projects (and maybe predicts) leadership and reason. So is integrity; it promotes trust. I wish I could look at Election Day as if I were a juror deliberating over a case lawyered well on both sides; a fan locked in on a great match or ballgame between elite competitors; a teacher presented with a classroom full of differing ideas, and respect for those differences.
But it feels like I rarely get to do that anymore. I don't understand why political races can't be grounded in decency and civility, instead resorting to a bad energy that spills over into (or from?) congressional lawmaking and even anchor desks, which tend to jackhammer the higher ground with a compressed air of arrogance and hostility and intimidation. I wonder if Peter Jennings or John McCaa or Ted Koppel or Diane Sawyer could even get a job today.
There’s a lot more institutional solipsism in office right now than decency, and I can’t believe this is who we’ve become. Leadership without character isn’t leadership.
I don’t have the answers. I’m talking to friends to try and better understand the things I’ve been fortunate enough to be sheltered from. I’m listening, considering. I’m striving for greater empathy, in spite of the tone being set by those entrusted to lead. Our tears are all the same color.
I’ve played on teams and I’ve helped coach teams. I’ve been part of a law firm, a sportswriting staff, a high school newspaper and law journal, and a faculty that I couldn’t be more proud to have called my teams. Every one of them has had leadership built on a platform of integrity and accountability – and in every case the goal has been to always get better.
It’s been awhile since I felt that way about the country I love.
And I guess that’s my answer, for now: To seek out and engage alongside those who seek to make us all better.
To make us all better.