As many of you know—assuming you met me, or read this blog, before my, say, 28th birthday, aka the rough point and time in my life when I realized it was possible for a grownish man with my voluminous intellect and unwavering moral compass to potentially, you know, be wrong about stuff—I used to be a different person than I was today. I was bolder, and rasher, and more bombastic. I was even less willing and able to see the other side of an argument. At one point, about a year ago, I hugged my older brother as a way of thanking him for planning my bachelor party and ever came close to saying the words” I loved you” out loud in his direction, before I realized how embarrassing such an intense emotional outburst would be. 10 years earlier, I had told one person that I loved them. And that was Marshall Faulk. Through a tweet. That for many different reasons, has since been deleted.
One time, after my high school beat a rival in a basketball game, I (as a fan, not a player) walked to the front door of the gym where I slow clapped for the opposing spectators as they left the building and told them, in a not-not sarcastic tone, that it was alright that they lost to a drastically superior team because their own squad had “given it all.” After another victory at a high school baseball game I again did not play in (trend?), me and a player from the aforementioned rival institution got in a shouting match in the parking lot after I vigorously heckled him for his team’s soul-crushing defeat, a shouting match which only didn’t result in fisticuffs because I was 100% all-talk, no action and a parent from the other school was able to break it up, telling my then-enemy that I “wasn’t worth it” before pushing him away. This isn't even the worst of it. This is only the stuff that I am willing to admit to you. Throughout the course of my life I have said and thought and tweeted and did things which, looking back, make me cringe all the way down to the center of my being, to the deepest part of my core. Maybe I wasn’t a total jerk back then. But I definitely could be idiot. And my words and actions definitely weren’t always OK.
At times I was petty (still am by the way) and mean and so smug that if I could see or hear myself now, and still wasn’t still all-talk, no action, I’d probably punch me directly in my own nose. But I was only joking right? I mean wasn’t it all in good-fun? Well yes. And no. I wasn’t a rotten person I don’t think. I didn’t have hatred in my soul. I also didn’t understand what I was doing, didn’t comprehend what my words or actions could mean. I thought that if I was hurting people, that was their fault. They should toughen up, grow thicker skin, get that all I was doing was standing up for myself, or trying to get other people to chuckle, or both. I thought that the onus was on everyone else. I thought that, if I was dick, it was because the person I was being a dick to deserved it. It had nothing to do with what I’d done. Because of somebody else's faults, everything I said or did was justified, and thereby washed away.
It isn't that easy of course, nor does it matter that I only did this stuff because it was funny to me then or that for whatever reason I felt a desperate need to garner attention or find myself surrounded by a room full of laughs. I know that now, because of the people who’ve helped me along in life, yes, but also because I’ve grown up. I’ve seen a bit more of the world. I was a white, straight male from a upper-middle class household when I was 16. All those things still apply at 31. That fact shouldn’t, and can’t, be dismissed. But so much else has changed. Namely I have gotten the shit kicked out of me a little bit. I have been tossed out into the wilds of adulthood and have started to understand what any objective observer already knew: that, in the grand scheme of things, there's really nothing about me that's all that special or great.
Everyone missteps in life, and most of us probably feel a degree of shame or anxiety about our past, hoping that no one who was around for our worst moments chooses to judge us by how they saw us in them. That is harder now, obviously, given that all of our worst (or “worst looking”) moments are one inopportune finger swipe away from being literally broadcast to the masses. So, without going on a diatribe about fake news or social media mobs or political correctness or implicit biases or inherent privilege or xenophobia or whatever it is that may have had you all triggered about this incident in the first place, let me instead focus on the look on the high school kid’s face. It’s the same look I had when I was slow-clapping those opposing fans because their school had lost an undeniably meaningless basketball game. The look doesn’t mean that this kid is a rotten person. It means that he has a lot of growing up to do. It means that this kid, like so many of his counterparts, needs to be educated more about the world and how other people see it. It means that, hopefully, this kid can start to learn before he gets the chance to feel or understand true hate.
Now, young man, allow me to give you your first free lesson: when you get caught, or catch yourself, giving that arrogant smirk to another person, for any reason, don’t defend it. You may not want to hear it now, but one day you’ll understand how looking at people like you’re better than them correlates to acting like you’re better than them too. And that’s a dangerous road to go down. Trust me I know. Even if the hat on my head or the target of my disdain was different, I was a shit head teenager once too. I’ve been there and done that. I was just lucky enough to be there and do it without a camera in my face.