Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Calling makes one Courageous

The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player ... But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.
- Kevin Durant

I'm willing to not win it. If I can't build it where I am.
- Damian Lillard


It's difficult I think for most humans to appreciate how both of these statements can be described as courageous.  I think most humans would minimize any equivalency between Kevin Durant joining a super-team and Damian Lillard pledging loyalty to his team as some kind of equivocation.  But this is just trying to make binary things that are not.

Courage is not easy - that much is clear to everyone.  If courage was easy, everyone would be courageous.  What escapes most people most often though is that courage also is not simple.  It isn't a question of doing this and not doing that.  Any meaningful definition of courage would have to include doing something (taking action) under conditions of fear.  But while fear is easy to describe, how simple is it to define?  What fills us with dread and terror is as individual and unique as a person’s fingerprint.  How else could it be in a world where some people look forward to getting their heads bashed in by an opponent in a fighting ring, while others become terrified at the idea of speaking in front of a crowd?

One person’s walk in the park is another person’s greatest test of all.  To someone practiced in not caring about the opinions of others, following your own heart is as natural as breathing.  But to someone who is practiced in deferring to others, that simple act, of doing what you want most, might be the biggest and most challenging decision of an entire lifetime.  They are fighting their own nature, bombarded by thoughts of consequences to come.  This is a very heavy burden - and the doubts that will follow will probably be very heavy.

Kevin Durant was on Bill Simmons and Simmons asked him what he thought of LeBron leaving his team.  And Durant said that at the time he wondered why he'd do that, especially since Cleveland was LeBron's home town.  And Simmons pressed him into whether he thought that it was in poor form, abandoning his supporters like that.  And Durant was adamant, saying why would someone think that LeBron owed more to his community when he'd given so much already?  Who was being selfish: LeBron for making decisions about his own life, or the fans for expecting him to satisfy their expectations?

Simmons kept pressing: "Well, I didn’t like that he did it that way. I just thought it was tacky, especially since he was from Ohio."

"But you don't matter," was Durant's response.  No fan should feel entitled to feeling a certain way about what someone else does or should do with their life.  The notion that Bill Simmons or Charles Barkely or Jim Whatshisface would have made a different, better decision if they had Lebron's memories, pressures, contracts, family, endorsements, doubts, frustrations, insecurities, body, shoe size, commitments, expectations and more is laughable enough.  The idea that someone could have little to no idea of any of those things and still think their opinon of what he should do held some sort of value is simply absurd.  You don't matter - you may be entitled to your opinion, but you have no basis for feeling entitled. Durant just kept saying it, over and over, almost as though he had to hear it as often as possible.  Almost as if he was convincing himself and not Simmons.

To someone trying to convince themselves that the opinions of others should be secondary, making a decision to do something unpopular is the very definition of courage.  But the simple minded, they don't see turmoil, they don't see beneath the surface.  All they see is making a decision that makes your life easier.  To them, you are the winner.  But if it makes your life materially easier and socially or emotionally more difficult, did you really win outright, as they would imagine?  Didn't you actually just break even?

Kevin Durant wanted a change and wanted a better chance at a title.  That was his standard, and by that standard, given the opportunity that presented itself, it was one of the most obvious decisions in the history of decision-making.  When people say that his going to the Warriors was strategically the best decision for the Warriors by eliminating the threat of the Thunder in the West, they're seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is also the best decision for him if he is on the Warriors.  He strengthens himself and weakens an obstacle as well.  That other people don't think that he should have made the mathematically most obvious decision given those standards speaks loudly to how much importance anyone can give to the counsel of strangers.  Because more often than not, without the dimension of aiki - seeing yourself within someone - the counsel of strangers amounts to them telling you not what is best for you but what is best for them.  People who claim to tell you what you need to hear usually use that as a smokescreen to tell you what they want to say.  It isn't about the recipient at all.

Damian Lillard has a different standard - a different outlook.  One might say his youth is coloring his outlook but then again, I'm 36 and I tend towards his line of thinking.  It's all arbitrary.  If Damian Lillard never wins an NBA Championship, does that make him a loser? When out of all the basketball games he's played in his life - one-on-one, elementary, high school, college and pro - he's probably won well over 80% of the challenges he's faced?  How many people on the planet has he lost to one-on-one...20, maybe?  How many games did he play in in his life where he was the highest scorer and far and away the best player on the court?

All that satisfaction and joy that comes from competition, accomplishment and victory in all those smaller battles - do they not add up to that one time that Dirk won a championship?  I really don't know that they don't...and people who have no idea what its like to be one of the 20 best people in the entire world at something have even less of an idea.  But that doesn't stop them from saying that if you didn't win it all, you aren't even worth remembering.

It is important to strive to be the best in all things.  But it is even more important to win on your own terms - meeting your expectations.  Damian Lillard isn't content to win a ring to silence the naysayers.  His standard is higher - to win with the team he built from scratch.  This is all but impossible now.  Which means it probably won't happen.  There is a fear there.  But Steph won with the only team he ever played for.  So did Dirk and Timmy D and Hakeem and Magic and Isiah and Bird.  So with this hope, he walks his path despite this fear.  People see this as loyalty. But this is courage first.

I remember fighting at the dojo and fighting someone much better than me.  One of the senpai was yelling at me to keep my hands up, keep moving - filling my head with all my mistakes.  And I just kept getting hit.  And through the pummeling, I remember hearing Sensei's voice above the din, saying something like "YOU'RE THE ONE GETTING PUNCHED! TRUST YOURSELF!"  And when I finished he said, "No one can take the punch for you.  They won't be taking the beating, and getting the bruises.  The noise from outside won't block a punch. So you have to do the fighting.  If you're going to do the dying, you should do the living, too."

No one else is going to die your death.  Don't let others live your life.

Everyone has different standards.  I’m pretty sure if Kevin Durant never wins a championship he’ll still be happier playing for that team.  I’m pretty sure that if Damian Lillard wins a championship the thing that he’ll hold closest to him was earning it his way.  We all have different conceptions of victory - define victory in different terms.  But it's having a mandate - having a calling - that makes courage obvious.  When you understand what matters most to you, fear gets put in the proper place.

At the ripe age of 36, I feel now that I've found my calling.  I'm going to use that patient ear of mine and listen to the burdens of others and help guide them to a safe place inside of their minds.  I've always had that Stillpoint inside, that place of solace that it seems so few people have nowadays.  It eluded me just for that one period in my life - at university - but I would love to be the comfort to others that I couldn't find for myself.  I would love to offer counsel to others and to help them build the tools to trust in their own counsel.  

And having realized all this, suddenly I feel quite brave.

- Grandpa