I was walking through Philadelphia yesterday, and I passed a statue. Statues have been in the news a lot lately. Cities and towns all over the United States are engaged in conversations about who is/isn’t appropriate to be celebrated with a statue. I spent the rest of the day thinking about why we put people on statues, and what we are celebrating when we do.
We don’t actually put up a lot of statues anymore. I can’t remember the last time that I saw a statue commissioned and displayed. Instead, we put people on pedestals by wearing clothing with their names on the back, or the name of their band on the front. We celebrate athletes and rock stars, and we put them on pedestals.
Why is that?
A few years ago, I read a book called Friday Night Lights. It was written by Buzz Bissinger. Bissinger moved to Plano, Texas and lived in the community of the high school football team. His book was an expose of the high school football culture in that town.
Bissinger described the love affair that Plano had with their team. They adored the football team, and they put that team on pedestals. They taught the team that the football players were above the rules that everyone else had to follow. The football players did not have to go to class, or follow any of the rules that applied to the other students in that community.
What is remarkable about the book isn’t that one town in Texas gets crazy about high school football players. What is remarkable is that so many towns get crazy about football players, basketball players, baseball players, and other athletes.
If we get that crazy about high school athletics, imagine what we do with college athletics. How many college athletes don’t go to class? How many college athletes don’t participate in college life, other than athletics?
Why is that?
Our culture celebrates athletes and musicians. These are people who know how to do one thing really well. It may be a 3-point shot, a drum roll, a home run or a guitar riff-but these stars have achieved expertise in doing one thing better than anyone else in the world.
What follows is just my opinion…..in order to become the very best in the world at something, I believe that you have to make a choice to not learn how to do many other important things. If you spend years of your life trying to become the best outfielder or the best guitar player in the world, then you decide to not take the time to learn things that the rest of us have to learn. If you spend all of your time developing guitar skills, you have no time left to learn how to become a husband, or father, or citizen.
We know who the best guitar players and athletes are. Ask your friends who won the Super Bowl last year, or whose tour is sold out this year. They will know the answer. Ask your friends who the best teacher is at their local high school, or who the best cardiologist or oncologist is in their community, and they will not know. Your friends know the name of someone who can throw a football, but they won’t know the names of people who have saved or changed hundreds of lives in their own community.
Why is that?
Why do we celebrate people who do a trivial thing exceptionally well, but are often unable to live the rest of their lives successfully? But we don’t celebrate people who do vitally important things very well? We celebrate the guitar riff and the 3-point shot, but not a well-organized teaching plan, effective first-responder training, or successful bypass surgery. Would you recognize the best pediatrician or teacher in your state if you saw them at the supermarket? Would you ask them for their autographs?
In my book Can Openers, I wrote an essay called “Role Models” (page 47). Go purchase the book. I am donating all of the proceeds to Philadelphia-area charities. Or go find the essay on this website for free. I will offer you a spoiler alert about that essay-my role models aren’t rock stars or athletes anymore. And if my interventional cardiologist ever has a T-shirt or jersey for sale, I will buy it.