i act rationally, logically, and quickly,
i live cautiously, dangerously, and evenly.
i see forward, backward, and sideways,
i hear whispers, screams, and sound waves,
i feel rushed, calm, and aged.
i remember wins, losses, and draws,
i forget rules, signs, and laws,
i long for simple, right, and strong.
i have more, less, the same.
i want more, less, the same.
i need more, less, the same.
i think drastically, realistically, meticulously…
We’ve all heard people proclaim their feat of quitting things like coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana, cocaine, crystal meth, crack, and heroin; but do we ever hear anyone boasting about their ability to quit money? Surely, the vast majority of people in this country wouldn't give the idea of quitting money an iota of thought. But recently, a homeless man in DC opened my eyes to this curious notion and how it might make some sense after all.
Here in DC, the site of a homeless person is not uncommon. On a daily basis, I find myself in a situation where I am forced to make the following decision: either reach into my pocket for some extra change or continue on my way. While people often struggle with this decision, it's natural, especially here in DC, to create a set of unspoken (and perhaps subconscious) morals surrounding this decision. In other words, we know how we’re going to act before we're even presented with the decision. Some of us never even consider giving away our spare change, some of us ocassionally find it in our hearts to give a little, and some of us frequently reach into our pockets. But I’ve never met anyone more generous in this regard than my friend, Mr. Nice Guy.
Mr. Nice Guy has been known to give inordinate amounts of money to people for seemingly no reason at all. While this may seem crazy to some of us, he rationalizes it by saying things like, “They need it more than I do,” or, “I make too much money anyway.” Okay, Mr. Nice Guy.
Recently, Mr. Nice Guy walked up to a homeless man reading the newspaper on 20th street in Northwest DC and offered him a dollar - a nice gesture by all accounts, but a routine move for Mr. Nice Guy. The response he got from this homeless man was one of the most surprising statements I’ve heard in my 23 years. “No thanks,” he said. “I quit using money.” Never before had this happened to Mr. Nice Guy. “Are you sure?” Mr. Nice Guy asked the homeless man. “Yes,” he nodded, as he continued reading the newspaper.
So, how does a homeless man refuse money? And what in the world is the logic behind quitting money?
My dad used to tell me, among other economic jabber, that money is like a drug: the more you have, the more you want. Growing up, I never really gave much credence to this theory. When people used to ask me the timeless question: "What do you want be when you grow up?", I would say, “Rich,” thinking that as long as I had lots and lots of money, I would be happy. Simply put, I always associated wealth with happiness. At about the age of 16, my response to this question changed from “Rich” to “Happy.”
I’m not sure exactly what led to my conclusion that wealth and happiness were two very distinct notions; it was likely a combination of things. 16 was about the age that I began to appreciate the value of money. I had a job, a car, and inevitably, the urge to go out with my friends. Life as I knew it was over; I was no longer a child and my responsibilities were only growing. With my newfound respect for the value of money came some natural observations. For example, I remember wondering why the kids who drove the fanciest cars in high school were not noticeably happier than everyone else. Shouldn’t they be outwardly rejoicing the fact that they had more money to spend, I thought? Why were the kids who drove the junkiest cars (or no car at all, if you can believe that), at times smiling more often and bigger than those who drove the fancy cars? These and other similar observations made me question my conviction that wealth leads to happiness. Then I went to college, where this phenomenon was illustrated ten-fold.
What does this have to do with the homeless man’s refusal to accept cash from Mr. Nice Guy and his remarkable statement about “quitting money?” Well, in order to "quit" using money, one must have at some point used money. Perhaps this homeless man's experience using money was simply not what he was hoping for. Perhaps he was perceptive enough to recognize (and admit) that money, instead of making him happy, only caused him distress. This is certainly a difficult realization to make; after all, we're indoctrinated from a young age that money is a good thing. We see this on television, in commercials, in the movies, in magazines, and in the mall. And the assertion that money is a good thing is quite easily defensible. To be functional contributors in our society, we need money.
But what if our intention is not to be functional contributors to society? What if our intention is much simpler: to be happy? What purpose does money serve in that case? If our goal is simply to be happy, perhaps money could be eliminated altogether.
I know what you're thinking: how does one survive without money? Survival, in its most basic sense, requires only food, water, and shelter. I have witnessed homeless people in DC offer assistance to street vendors in exchange for food, thus satisfying their most basic need. That’s right, food, not money. This type of barter successfully eliminates the use of money for basic subsistence purposes, and while it does not allow one to function in a manner familiar to us, who are we to suggest that this way of life does not allow for happiness?
So while we all long to win the lottery or wait anxiously for our next raise or squabble over how much the tooth fairy did or didn’t leave us, are we doing so because we think this additional money will make us happier or simply because we are addicted to it? Why are we so convinced that all our problems will wash away with a few more dollars in the bank?
I don’t realistically expect anyone to suddenly think that money is evil and that we should all strive to eliminate it; however, there is a message here. We each have our own definition of happiness, but differences aside, happineess is always a state of being, an emotion. Various forces in our society have caused us to associate an increase in wealth with an increase in happiness. While it is undeniable that money can ease some of life’s burdens, Mr. Nice Guy and the homeless man provide us with two distinct yet unique perspectives on money that may help us better define our happiness.
For months, we agonized over who would lead this nation into the 21st century. As an 18 year-old first-time voter, I couldn’t help but wonder if all Presidential elections were this exasperating. When all was said and done, George W. Bush received his mandate, as millions of registered democrats received their Prozac prescriptions.
The four years that followed were, admittedly, somewhat of a blur. Something about “evil-doers” in 2001 seemed to propel W to extremely high approval ratings. Indeed, he responded well to the attacks of 9/11. But not long after that is when it started getting fishy, and that’s when I started paying attention.
As an intern for Senator Hillary Clinton during the summer of 2002, I was finally exposed firsthand to American politics, and it wasn’t pretty. Capital Hill is a clean and pleasant place to the untrained eye, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that politics was not the career for me. Somewhere between opening Senator Clinton’s mail with Latex gloves to protect myself from potentially hazardous materials (aka, Anthrax), and repeatedly hanging up on dissatisfied constituents calling to “have their voices heard”, I decided that I was more fit for another line of work.
Bush rode those approval ratings and Anthrax scares and elevated terrorist alerts straight into the Middle East, launching a full-fledged war against….Iraq. You see, to the average American, Iraq and those “evil-doers” responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were pretty much one in the same; they were both “over there” somewhere and both intent on killing innocent people. Not too many people seemed too perturbed at the onset of this new war, myself included. Saddam was openly defying the UN, an international body established, in part, to maintain peace. If this wasn't reason enough to invade Iraq, argued the Bush team, here's the clincher: weapons of mass destruction. In a State of the Union address, Bush outlined Saddam's attempts to obtain uranium from Niger in order to create biological warfare.
I found myself in Spain when the war broke out. Not sure how I got there or what language I was speaking, so I turned to the newspapers for some direction. Oddly, the stories in Spanish newspapers were not like the stories in American newspapers. For one, they were in Spanish. But more importantly, they had a different tone, a less optimistic tone. I wondered whose perspective was right. The American press, the Spanish press, or the hundreds of other points of view covering the unfolding events. What was being said in Iraqi newspapers? Where was the truth relative to all the stories floating around? Confused, I trusted the story I knew best, the American story. I was convinced that the war was founded on sound, reliable facts. I wrote an opinion paper for one of my Spanish classes, shrewdly outlining all the reasons we were invading Iraq, and I felt confident doing so. But as the war proceeded, criticism in the Spanish press mounted. I no longer took for granted the Bush story. And pretty soon, I regretted writing that scathing paper.
I returned to the U.S. about the same time Bush’s approval ratings returned to earth. I began working for CNN’s political talk show, Crossfire. One day in July 2003, Robert Novak, one of two hosts “from the right”, didn’t show up to work. The news said something about an article he wrote, outing a CIA operative’s name. I vividly remember thinking to myself, “how trivial is this?” What importance could this CIA operative have, relative to all of the issues in the world today? I thought, with the war turning out to be more of a headache than we ever expected (or were led to believe), and those elusive WMD’s not showing up, who cares about some CIA operative. Let’s get down to the real news!
The following day, Novak made some statement on air about the article he wrote, and while I doubt too many people listened to him, it was enough to get people to forget about it for a while. Attention quickly turned to the election of 2004. John (“I know war, I’m a Vietnam Vet! And I’m tall! And I once rode on a boat with JFK!”) Kerry, the Senator from Massachusetts, was going up against George (“Hello? Didn’t anyone hear me the first time? What’s this presidency thing all about, anyway?!”) W. Bush. So Bush looked at the polls and longed for the days when his approval ratings were out the roof. He was really sliding, in light of a recession and, to put in mildly, a lack of progress “over there.” So he did what any subservient, inept President would have done: he listened to his main-man, his go-to-guy, his clutch performer: Karl Rove. And Rove produced a rabbit from his hat, like he had done so many times before. As Americans started realizing that Bush’s plan for Iraq was, well, nonexistent, Rove reminded them of something more timeless than any little war, more meaningful than any passing economic recession: morals and values. And in an election only slightly less exasperating than the previous one, Bush was again the victor, not in small part due to his conservative base connecting to his “stand-up” morals. Finding any relationship between high morals and a war based on deceit was a road Republicans were not willing to take their S.U.V.’s down.
Well, we’re two and a half years removed from the day in July 2003 when Novak didn’t show up to work, and we’re just under one year removed from the refusal of Americans to find any inconsistency between morals and a fraudulent war, and just now it seems like the article Novak wrote was the real news, despite my inability to acknowledge it.
The news has come full circle. This morning, “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, was indicted on five counts, all in some way related to Robert Novak’s article that I dismissed as insignificant. The CIA operative’s name outed by Novak, Valerie Plame, was the wife of Ambasador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was sent to Niger by the CIA to research Saddam’s alleged attempts to obtain uranium. This uranium, argued the Bush team (including Scooter Libby), was proof that Saddam was harvesting WMD’s and a well-founded reason to invade Iraq. Here’s the problem: Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV determined that there was no proof Saddam was in fact buying uranium from Niger. He made public his findings when he realized the Bush team was ignoring his hard work. How did the Bush team respond to Mr. Wilson’s aggressive criticism? Well, some believe that, in an effort to send a message to Mr. Wilson (and people with similar intentions), they leaked his wife’s identity to the press. Enter stage left: Robert Novak.
So what do we make of all this? The New York Times summarizes the likely consequences of today’s news in an article written by David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson.
"Rather than marking the end of the matter after 22 months of an intensive investigation that went to the heart of the White House, the indictment opened a new chapter. Mr. Libby could face a trial that seems likely to expose to the public some of the administration’s innermost workings.”
Now it’s up to us, the public. Do we choose to do what we’ve repeatedly done throughout Bush’s presidency – fail to dig deeper into the heart of the issues? Or do we seek the truth about this administration and the rationale they claimed for bringing this country into war? I think the families and friends of the over 2,000 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq would ask us to choose the latter. Is that too much to ask?
Baseball has played a large role in my life. When people ask me to tell them about myself, I often begin by saying, "Well, I'm a Yankees fan from Massachusetts," to which they usually reply, "A Yankees fan from Massachusetts!?" As shocking as this is, it's not only true, it's well-justified. But beyond the devotion I have to any particular team is my admiration of the game itself. I would venture to say that baseball has unequivocally changed the way I view the world.
There's something about baseball. Something about the essence of the game that seems to fuse it with the world around it. To me, baseball is not like other sports, isolated from all other events. Perhaps it is the lack of a clock dictating the beginning and end of a game that causes me to view baseball and life in a similar regard. Baseball, much like life, does not begin and end when a buzzer sounds or when the clock strikes zero. There are a myriad of forces that determine the length of any given baseball game. I feel it would be foolish to suggest that this is not also the case with life itself.
Last night, Albert Pujols reminded me, along with countless other fans around the world, of another strong parallel between baseball and life. With his team on the brink of elimination, Pujols came to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning. The fact that he had gone hitless in his previous four at-bats of the game, and was a meager 3 for 14 against the opposing pitcher, Brad Lidge, did not seem to bother Albert. Instead, he sent a pitch far over the left field wall, resulting in a three-run homer that could potentially go down as one of the most memorable homeruns in baseball history (this will be determined by the outcome of the NLCS). In doing so, Pujols reminded us that in baseball, as in life, there are always second chances, opportunities for redemption, and above all, hope. Some people might read this and find my comparison of baseball to life downright idiotic. To those people, I say, "leave a comment."
To me, there is no player in baseball who exhibits this mindset of everlasting hope moreso than Derek Jeter. Yes, Jeter is a superstar, and I'm clearly not alone in my admiration for him, but what I see in Jeter is someone who plays the game hard regardless of the score, regardless of what he did his last time at the plate. He understands that in baseball, as in life, his time to hit will come around again. And if he doesn't succeed in his next chance, Jeter always shows up at the ballpark the following day with the same sense of professional dedication and determination. It's this component of Jeter's game that can be transferred from baseball to almost anything we choose to do in life. While we don't always know exactly when our next chance will arrive, what we can (and should) do is "play hard" regardless.
For those readers not too familiar with the game of baseball, it can be summarized nicely in one word: strategy. The strategy employed in baseball, as in life, is multi-dimensional. On the one hand, short-term goals are crucial; however, these goals should not be achieved at the expense of long-term goals, which always must enter the equation as any strategy is being formulated. A simple example of this is a manager's decision to either: pinch hit for his starting pitcher (in the National League, of course), which would presumably give his team a better chance of scoring (ie, the short-term goal), or leave his pitcher in the game to hit, thus diminishing his team's chance of scoring in the present inning but improving his team's chance of keeping the opposing team from scoring (ie, the long-term objective). This is a difficult decision for a manager, one he must make almost on a nightly basis. There are various factors that come into play each time the decision is made, but since I'm into the whole "brevity thing", I will not bore you with the details. Regardless, the essence of this type of decision is illustrated in life almost constantly. Do we sacrifice our long-term goals for short -term gratification? Does the recent college grad forego job hunting to travel around the world listlessly? The short-term would likely be sensational and/or extremely gratifying, but would it be so gratifying that he is willing to sacrifice such opportunities as work experience, which would improve his chances of getting into graduate school three years down the road? I, for one, would have an easy time arguing either side of this conundrum.
On a more fundamental level, baseball, much as life, is a collection of decisions. But it is not only the decision that matters in the end; it is the execution of the decision that ultimately determines our chances of success. And if we make decisions and execute to the best of our ability, regardless of external events (much like Pujols and Jeter do on the field), our chances of success, both now and later, increase dramatically.