Quote, August 10 2012 – Your words reveal more than you realize

“Are you a farmer, or a football player?”

-An area high school football coach, speaking about a week ago to a local high school student who spent the summer working on a cousin’s farm, instead of going to football camps.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog post titled “At some point, somebody has to actually do their job.”

Just as important as someone doing their job, at some point somebody has to actually do a job.

When I was working in offices, I ran across a couple people who said “Work to live, don’t live to work.”

And this was good advice. What it was saying is that work provides the funds to do the other things in life that aren’t work, and don’t get confused that work provides all of your life or the meaning of life, because it doesn’t.

But even in the saying “Work to live, don’t live to work” there is the assumption somebody was working.

Rather than make this a diatribe on coaches, U.S. schools systems or the parent and school administrators who haven’t made it very darned clear to any and all sports coaches that sports is unnecessary luxury in a school system, not the sole reason for existence of the school system in general, I’m instead going to say this is a good example of how people in general get their priorities very confused.

An example of this was some martial arts classes I attended while living in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. There were a lot of adults in those classes who liked to bring up politics on a regular basis. This included students, senior students, and even the instructors themselves. This happened in a multiple different classes with multiple different instructors.

Was that class supposed to be a martial arts class, or a political discussion group? I know the adults who constantly brought up politics were absolutely convinced they were serving some sort of higher purpose by constantly bringing up politics and getting together with other people in the class who agreed with them and all standing around nodding their heads and telling each other how smart and knowledgeable and correct they all were and it was too bad the world was run by dummies who wouldn’t listen to such smart and wise people — but as I tried explaining to a couple of different class members who were regularly part of the head-nodding mutual-reinforcement cliques, a lot of students were coming to those classes to learn martial arts. Those students were paying with both their money and time to attend a class which they had thought would be about martial arts. Parents who were sending their kids to those classes were taking to pay their kids’ monthly dues, buy the workout clothing, and drive the kids back and forth to a class that had represented itself to them as a martial arts class.

So the question “Was that class supposed to be a martial arts class, or a political discussion group” quickly became quite important, because closely following that was an even larger question “Did the people attending that class want it to grow, or did they want it to remain their own little 5-10 person evening workout and political chitchat session?” Because if it was presented to the public as a martial arts class and the members of the class wanted more members of the public to join the class, they had best act like it was a class actually about martial arts, and not a class that called itself one thing but was actually another.

Similarly, the question from the football coach “Are you a farmer, or a football player?” may have opened up a whole other series of questions the coach didn’t expect. “What are my actual chances of making a living after high school as a football player, as opposed to making a living as a farmer?” Or maybe, “If this coach expects me to give up a paying job, good future references and work experience I can put on my resumé for a series of football camps that state law says he can’t require me to go to, what else is he going to expect me and my teammates to sacrifice for the privilege of playing football?”

I doubt my friend’s thoughts got as complex and far-reaching as the last question in the above paragraph. But they probably did get as far as “Holy cow, how much of a jerk is this guy???”

There’s a science fiction novel by Eric Flint, Mother of Demons, where a large part of the character development and whole plot arcs revolve around the statement “what is the question?”

The whole point in Mother of Demons of the constant repetition of “what is the question?” — both for the characters in the book and for the reader — was to drive home the point that if you get too caught up in trying to prove you have the answer and trying to drive everyone else into agreeing with you that you have the answer, then life and other people are likely to pass you by, because the questions that concern them are probably not the ones you thought you were answering.

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