Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it. Seldom have I heard a sillier string of sentences. I don’t even care whose face it’s plastered across. Nor do I care which half-witted, left-winged company lurks behind it. It is the statement itself that needs scrutiny – that and our predilection for short, dramatic, schmaltzy concepts.
The first three words sound like a noble command, like we should all square our shoulders, lift our chins, and bravely BELIEVE – like it’s the believing itself – regardless of what we believe – that is the challenge.
Well, believing is a challenge if what we believe is baloney. What is it that Colin Kaepernick believes? Does he actually believe that cops are just running amuck all over the country shooting down sweet little black kids? Is that true? Not according to actual crime statistics, it’s not. Not according to court decisions it’s not. But, that doesn’t matter; it’s the believing that counts as if believing is hard to do.
Human beings have three ways we learn: we hear; we experience; we think. Our mothers told us the stove was hot. If we were smart, we believed her and learned that lesson. The more curious and recalcitrant among us also touched the stove and learned the hard way. Those of us who could think ruminated on those events – the telling and the doing – and came to a rational conclusion that giving stoves a wide berth is a good idea.
Believing, which we usually relegate to religious and philosophical realms, is really the most basic and useful of our brains’ operations. Most of what we learn, we learn by faith. So having faith is no great accomplishment – it just means accepting as truth what someone tells us.
But how do we validate that what we learn is true? By the other two methods. We observe and we do. We try it out. We think logically about it. Our faith, our believing is no more valuable than that in which we believe. Yet, Nike wants us to just randomly have faith – in any old thing, as far as I can tell, AND to believe it to the extent that we’re willing to sacrifice everything. So I guess I’ll believe in the Great Pumpkin. I’m going to wear a pumpkin costume to work every day even if I get fired. Is that a reasonable policy?
No. If I’m going to give up everything, I’d want to know that what I’m standing behind is real. I believe in the resurrection of Christ because the people who walked and talked and ate with Him afterward were so sure that they were willing to die terrible, torturous deaths defending the idea. They didn’t just believe; they knew.
A lot of people believe in socialism in spite of the mountains of economic, historic, and psychological evidence to the contrary. We can give them no credit for believing because their faith is rooted in ignorance and guilt, not in fact. Some sociology professor told them it would work and they just bought it with no more questioning than they did when their mothers told them that the hairy thing on the couch was a cat. Colleges used to teach their students to do that follow-up thinking, but they don’t anymore and now we’re faced with a couple of generations of people who just have faith. Period. No knowledge. No logic. Just grab the slogan and go.
If we’re going to be a culture of aphorisms, if we must take our wisdom in nanosecond bursts, let us at least get it from somewhere more accredited than Nike and a second-string quarterback.
Let’s try G. K. Chesterton, for starters. He’s the king of the bon mot. How about this one, “Comparisons are odious.” We’d do well to have this tattooed on our forearms. Maybe then we’d quit whining, “They’ve got more than we have,” whimper, whimper, whimper. Chesterton is so right; we can’t profitably compare our lot to others’ because we can never really know what anyone else’s lot is. And yet we have an entire political party that is based on fact-less, baseless, self-pitying comparisons.
Or maybe C. S. Lewis – “We are all fallen creatures and all very hard to live with.” The Apostle Paul said it this way, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Now that’s an aphorism we can all get behind. Even young children have lived long enough to know how true that is. If we all said that to ourselves once a day we’d stop expecting too much of our friends and family. We’d know that no one, not parents, not teachers, not government officials, not even grandchildren are perfect. This will make us disappointment-proof and far less cranky.
What about Socrates’s famous line? -- “An unexamined life is not worth living.” That would be a productive mantra that would urge us on to more thoughtful living. It may not be zingy enough to sell running shoes, but it is true. Life is too much trouble to not have a reason or a purpose. Such a line would push us to figure it out.
Since we live in a competitive and driven society maybe Woody Allen’s line, “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” would be worth memorizing. That thought would help us face Monday mornings, push us to get the dishes done, or to mow the lawn.
Or we could emblazon on our foreheads Booker T. Washington’s completely race-less advice, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” That might go further toward ending our national tensions than calling up the specter of men on a football field kneeling to whatever god they kneel to. Quit whining and just do it.
Or on an even more powerful note, Mahatma Gandhi’s statement, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” This is far more direct than “Believe in something” and yet it gives the reader as wide a selection. It is a little more daunting because if we want the world to be better, then we must change as well – it’s not all about the other guy. Making a spectacle of oneself doesn’t quite get there. A professional athlete could open a sports center for young men in one of our deadly cities. He could pay for a lawyer for a person he thought had been wrongly accused. A person with fame and money could actually make improvements and not just throw temper tantrums.
Of course, if you want to stick with sports we could have as one of our core beliefs Wayne Gresky’s rousing injunction, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” That would get people into their gear and out onto the ice. Logically speaking, it’s always going to be a true statement, and all it asks of you is to go play whatever game you’re in. Give it a go. It doesn’t require you to make a fool of yourself. It doesn’t require you to sacrifice something you don’t really even have.
Lastly, we could even go with an Oprah quote – “You become what you believe,” though I see that as more of a cautionary concept than an inspirational one. In the first place, I’m not at all sure that it’s true. I’ve had students who believed they were A pupils, but were very wrong about that assessment. Besides which, what if, like our starting quarterback wannabe, the thing you believe is just nonsense? According to the Oprah, you too would become nonsense.
I believe in something. I believe in the Trinity and in the founding concepts of this country. The evidence for the reality, logic and power of these is overwhelming. For these I’d sacrifice it all.