A few days ago I watched a football game. Something I did for 9 hours every Sunday in college, but rarely happens now. A lot has changed in 10 years. There are new concerns about head trauma, tense national anthem coverage, and you are only allowed to two-hand touch ol’ TB12. But there are also a lot of things that haven’t changed a bit. One of those is the near obligatory thanking of God for any, and all achievements. A first down warrants a double chest-pat, kiss, and point upward. A TD is followed up by a silent Tebow kneel then 2 second pause with upward gaze. Then there is the post-game presser, where reporters ask banal questions they were taught during Junior year at [insert local city college associated with hardworking ‘mericans]. But before the questions have a chance to hit those bell-rung ears, we hear “First, I want to thank” This is where it really jumps the shark. Unless…
Let’s hold atheistic skepticism to the side for just second. If I imagine myself as a professional athlete (which isn’t hard to do since I made Varsity soccer for the first time my senior year; the fact that it was mandated by school policy is beside the point), what would I do in the same situation? Certainly I would know, deep down, that no matter how much effort I had expended, no matter how many hours I’d spent in the gym, no matter many reps I’d taken after practice, my achievements in that moment are only possible because I have an abundance of fast twitch muscles. Or maybe I wouldn’t know that since the University of Florida’s athlete track is just a 100 page book of mazes and word searches. Regardless, there are things some people just have and others just don’t.
Maybe then, thanking God is just the simplest way of acknowledging that those ‘gifts’ were given and not earned. If that is the motive, then it’s just about the only decent way to celebrate anything. Taking credit only after acknowledging that you are only partially responsible for what you have. That a large part of that moment, of every moment, is due to circumstances outside of your control, divine or not.
When I posited that cute and wholly unnecessary little theory to my friend “taP” (I have scrambled the letters of his name to protect the innocent; good thing the Germans didn’t think of such an impenetrable code), taP ruthlessly replied “oooorrrr they are just ego-maniacs who virtue signal.”
Let’s be honest, he’s probably right. Or since we are talking about individuals, let’s say he’s probably right most of the time. So what are we to do? How can we go on without knowing whether or not football players, let alone Oscar winners, are actually acknowledging that more than their effort contributed to their success?
This is where it gets borderline interesting, depending on how bored you actually are. There are two reasonable theories about why taP and I see the situation so differently. One, which comes from the German poet & philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is that “a man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.” If you can find it in your own heart to forgive Goethe’s era driven gender singularity, you might agree. At its core he is saying that if we believe in the good and the noble, if we experience it internally, we will see the same qualities out in the world. But if we believe humans are steeped in self-interest and deception, we see those qualities in the world. Cynicism then, according to this theory, is rooted in an individuals self-knowledge of his (or her, if you please Mr. Goethe) own deceptions.
Well this essay really escalated quickly.
taP wouldn’t like that answer of course. It implies that he (or she, depending on the true identity of such a mysterious person) knows that he (or she!!) is a virtue signaler, simply because (s)he projects that motive onto others.
We arrive then at the second theory about why Pat and I disagree. One of us is right and the other is wrong. Since I am writing this essay, I proclaim myself to be right. And because this theory is far simpler and requires no thought at all really, it will be the one everyone agrees with. Not because of logic, or Occam’s razor, but because people are lazy when it comes to thinking.
…Or perhaps I only think people are lazy, because I’m actually quite lazy, and therefore see laziness in all people? 🤔 Damn you Goethe.