Why (not) bother?
A task requiring effort is more unattractive today than at any other time in history. Diversions abound, and require less effort than ever.
So why bother?
There are always reasons, rational, logical reasons to pull your finger out and [fill in overused buzzphrase here]. But as we increasingly learn, lead by those legends of the silver lining, economists (who since the catastrophic failure of much of their accepted heterodoxy over the past few years have begun to concede that , hey, maybe we’re not all rational agents all the time) rational doesn’t always win.
So if you can’t count on yourself to be rational, choose your irrationality. When you won’t do something because it’s the right thing to do, do it because someone you look up to would do it (because it’s the right thing to do). You’re adding a cognitive step, which makes no sense, but it may work, it may activate that lizard part of your brain that flicks its tongue out in disgust at the idea that someone else might excel where you fall down. That you might not be being all you can be [there is a little soldier in your head, I promise]
Most guys who are familiar with this concept and have read a comic book would ask “What would Bruce do?”. We naturally compare ourselves to the billionaire playboy vigilante with the best car ever. But I see Bruce as being a better indicator that what you’re going to do is ingenious, resilient, and uncompromising. That’s great if you’re trapped on a sploding bridge or assaulted by a man wearing a muffler mask. But what about when you’re just trying to be better, day by day less douche and more swoosh?
Enter Steve Rogers. And to assist, Tony Soprano.
For Tony, one of the toughest parts of figuring out how to subvert his Uncle Junior’s leadership of the Soprano family was reconciling himself to undermining a member of “The Greatest Generation”, the generation that fought the World Wars and built the modern world as we know it with the sweat of their brow and the courage of their dreams, often (and in Uncle Junior’s case) after leaving their homelands for a better (newer, richer) life. How could these brave men and women have gotten old and unreliable? How could they no longer be fit to lead? How could they be so out of touch with the world they helped create? Such was Tony’s quandary.
Steve Rogers is the embodiment of this fabled Greatest Generation. Steve was a wimp whose courage, tenacity, and desire to serve were so indefatigable that he was gifted with strength and endurance to fight the battles no-one else could. Subsequently, he lost everything and was frozen in Arctic ice for decades until thawed out into a modern world he still struggles to understand, as it is in so many ways a degeneration and perversion of his generation’s work-in-progress.
But The Greatest Generation didn’t just craft modernity from grit and nerve. They also held doors open for others, offered to help strangers, built communities, bought fresh flowers for their partners, whistled while they worked, and wore sharply pressed clothes. They worked hard, but didn’t seek profit in the honest toil of others. This is myth-making, but myths are meant to be inspirational, and all myths originate in truth.
So when nano-debating, in the specks of time in which we make these decisions, whether to stir-fry the now-softened vegetables for your partner, whether to take out the trash or leave it for your housemate, whether to call or text…
I invite you to ask “What Would Steve Do?”
Because you’re really asking “What would I do if I could be bothered to be my best?”.
And if you ask the question enough, you’ll reach a shorthand version that cuts the whole debate dead.
“Are you proud of yourself?”
I know the Greatest Generation is a glorification of a group of normal human beings who happened to live at a certain time in history, and that throughout the ages humankind has glorified their predecessors, that we are creatures of nostalgia and sentimentality. I also know that embedded in this generation were many values we’ve since shed (or tried to), like segregation along race and class lines, homophobia, religious orthodoxy, etc.
But this is a post about Captain America. It’s a story we write that we may become better. A post-it note for the fridge door in your head.
Take what you want.
Leave the Segway.