Unrealistic and Unreasonable Expectations


“Try to avoid unrealistic and unreasonable expectations,” I say to my son when he becomes frustrated that he isn’t as great in sports as he thought he should be, and he throws the same fiery, embarrassing temper tantrums I once did.

“What makes you think you should be great?” I ask him. “How have you arrived at such unrealistic and unreasonable expectations? How much work have you put in? How much instruction have you received? Is it because you’re not great at hitting the ball? How long have you been playing this game? You have unreasonable expectations of yourself, and that will not serve you well in life, trust me.”

‘Why can’t I jack the ball out of the yard every time?’ he asks himself. ‘I’m already seven-years-old, I should be able to do this by now.’ Perhaps it has something to do with the idea that I have unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of him, and I’ve passed it along. I’ve tried hard not to be that parent, but as someone who had unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of myself, throughout my youth, maybe I passed that along. Whatever the case is, my son shows signs of wanting to be better, and I think one of the keys to accomplishing that is to teach him that his unrealistic and unreasonable expectations might impede that progress. 

Failure can be humiliating and embarrassing, but how we deal with it defines us. “Don’t get mad about your momentary mistakes. Learn from them,” I say. “What did you do wrong this time, and how can you correct it next time?” We ignore such instruction, because we believe we are already there. We disregard advice, because we’re already seven-years-old, and it’s probably too late to change our ways now. We consider tidbits annoying chunks of information from some know-it-all who claims to know better than we do. We also fail to process most of the small information that it takes to succeed, because “we already knew that”.    

Former Major Leaguer, and Hall of Fame, pitcher Randy Johnson once talked about the advice that former Major Leaguer and Hall of Fame, pitcher Nolan Ryan gave him. Ryan instructed Johnson to alter his finishing step one inch to the left. Johnson said that seemingly irrelevant piece of information changed his whole career. He says he wouldn’t have been half the pitcher he was without that advice. By the time, Ryan gave Johnson that advice, Johnson was already a major leaguer. He probably pitched, at various levels, for ten years at that point. He probably heard enough advice and tidbits to fill a copy of War and Peace from pitching coaches throughout his maturation as an athlete. One of them probably spotted the same flaw in Johnson’s mechanics that Ryan did, but Johnson ignored that piece of advice. Did Johnson ignore that advice for years, because he thought he was already a great pitcher, only to cede to one of the greatest pitchers of all time, or was Ryan the only one to spot it?

What’s the difference between a Hall of Fame pitcher and a pitcher who never pitched beyond high school? Most would say it’s all about natural, God-given ability. What’s the difference between an all-star pitcher and a Hall of Famer? Baseball is simple. You throw a ball, you catch a ball, and you hit a ball. Some naturally gifted athletes will be able to throw and hit the ball better than we can, but the seemingly insignificant minutia involved in the mechanics of the process might enhance that natural ability. How open are we to such instruction? Are we a blank slate, an eager student in life, or what they call a coachable player?  

Learning, in any venue, is a methodical, meticulous process that requires the mentality of a coachable player to succeed.  The best students enter into each new venture they pursue a blank slate, eager to learn. How many of us enter into a new venture, a curious sponge seeking to learn everything we can to be better? How many of us enter into the same situation believing that with our God-given abilities we’re already halfway there? Once they see us perform, really perform to the best of our abilities, they will see that we don’t need instruction, tidbits, or piece of advice. Those giving this advice might be shocked to see how great we are, we think. How many of us miss the tiny nuggets of information that could define a separation between those who are halfway there and us?

We say such things to the young kids around us, but how amenable are we to instruction, advice, and tidbits? If we could go back in time, via a time machine, and speak to a younger us, would we be as open to advice? Are we now? Did we think our natural abilities would eventually shine through, or did we, do we, have unrealistic and unreasonable expectations?

My brother had an awkward, inaccurate jump shot. My friend and I tried to coach him up with some of the tidbits we learned over the years. He said, and I quote, “It’s probably too late to learn anything new now.” He was sixteen-years-old at the time. I laughed at him then, but I lived by the same philosophy in basketball and many other things.

Most people find sports analogies tedious, but they’re illustrative. When I played recreational sports, I never received proper coaching, and I never had an attentive mentor, but I expected to be a quality player no matter what the sport was or how much coaching I received. Everyone I knew was self-taught, and we considered advice and tidbits of information insulting. When we found out we weren’t as great as we thought we were, we found it embarrassing, humiliating, and infuriating.

“Even the most successful fail more often than they succeed and they’re wrong more often than they’re right,” I will tell my son when he’s older. “Even with proper coaching, and a mindset conducive to coaching, most people won’t excel at sports, but if you can use everything playing sports teaches a person, you might be able to use it in other venues. Most people aren’t great at fixing things either. You might think I’m insulting you, but I’m trying to teach you how to approach matters with a mind that is open and conducive to learning.”

We say such things to our kids, because we wish someone would’ve said such things to us when we were kids, yet when we take our first crack at operating a power saw, we find it humiliating and embarrassing that we can’t do it properly.

Our inability to succeed might be that we want to succeed on our own. We don’t want to give other people credit. We receive a great deal of satisfaction constructing a toy without consulting the instructions. If we’re able to successfully build that toy on our own, without any of these tidbits or advice, we might enjoy it more. We want to surprise people with our natural ability. We want to be what others call a self-made man, a prodigy, and an artist who stuck by his guns, no matter what the experts said. We want to prove how smart we are, and how athletically, artistically, mechanically inclined we are. We don’t want to know “an easier way”, or that we can do something better if we adjust our approach ever-so slightly, and we hate it when someone tells us we’re doing it wrong. We hate it, because we think we should have everything all figured out by now. We want to be “special” and special people give instructions, they don’t receive instructions. Nobody told Mickey Mantle and Alex Rodriguez how to swing, nobody ever had to tell Steve Jobs how to run a company. There was no doubt something special about them, and all of the special people that litter history, but what separated them from equally talented and skilled people of their craft? Were they able to see beyond their unrealistic and unreasonable expectations to see that there was nothing special about them, until there was.   

How many times will we attempt to construct a toy without following the instructions, until we realize that there’s nothing special about us. We’re just not very good at fixing things. Our ability to admit that there’s nothing special about us is frustrating, embarrassing, humiliating, illuminating, and the mindset we should have in any such ventures. We see the latter in the unreasonable and unrealistic expectations our children have, and it proves to be something of an epiphany for us.  

I’ve grown so accustomed to failing the first time I try to construct a toy that it doesn’t bother me that much as it once did when I wasn’t able to without instructions. I now expect to be wrong five to six times more times, even with instructions, and when I exceed that number in the reconstruction process, it might involve some inflammatory curse words, but I no longer find it a humiliating condemnation of my ability. If someone spots my struggle, and they offer a suggestion, I am not as insulted as I used to be, because I’m starting to see that most people know more about fixing things than I do. My motto, throughout this process is, “If one way does not work, try another.” That might sound simple, but we complicate these trivial matters with our unreasonable and unrealistic expectations. “I should be able to fix something as simple as this by now,” we say to ourselves. Some of the times, these unrealistic and unreasonable expectations get in the way of us completing even trivial matters. If we could get out of our way, we might realize there is another way, and once we’re done we might wish that someone introduced us to how counterproductive our unrealistic and unreasonable expectations were years ago.  

Parents can talk about the philosophy and psychology of sports all day long, and we love doing it, but nothing penetrates better than doing it over and over again. This is what sports psychologists call kinesthetic learning. Throw the ball, catch the ball, and hit the ball. He hits the ball solid, he learns. He misses a perfect strike, he learns. He also learns that one of the keys to success in sports, as in life, is to have a short term memory. He learns the power of forgetting what he did last week, yesterday, and in the last at-bat. We can discuss the philosophy of rewarding our sons and daughters with words of encouragement, and we can debate whether the drill sergeant approach might be more effective, and kids are so different that we witness how these approaches can work differently for young individuals, but nothing is better than just plain doing it. We sign our son up for various leagues, and he gauges how he’s doing compared to his peers. He also wants to be better than them. He wants to be great, and I encourage that, but he gets so frustrated when he realizes he isn’t there yet. He’s just a kid, and when kids play sports, they not only want to be great, they expect it. When they aren’t, they don’t understand the difference between their unreasonable and unrealistic expectations and reality. It confuses them, and that confusion leads to frustration. What’s the difference between being a quality seven-year-old athlete and a poor one? Some of it’s natural ability, of course, but most of it involves just doing it over and over again, in practice, in the backyard, and in their dreams at night. Doing it, also allows them to put all of our psychological and philosophical tidbits and advice into play, and it’s there, somewhere in that complex mix, that they learn the various nuances and intricacies of the game.

Movies Operate in Patterns Humans Don’t


“Henry, I don’t think we’re going to catch this guy!” a policeman says as he and his partner chase a motorcyclist down a winding road through some scenic mountains at a dangerously rapid rate, during the opening credits of our movie.

“I think he might be the best we ever saw,” Henry replies. Even if the policemen could get close enough to see the motorcyclist, she is wearing a helmet with a heavily tinted visor that covers every inch of her face. “We’re not going to catch him,” Henry concedes. “He’s too good.” Chance intervenes, and they somehow manage to pull this woman over. When they remove her helmet, they discover that the alleged culprit is a woman. “It’s a woman?” the males whisper in awe.

“And I would’ve gotten away with it too,” she whispers between bared teeth, “if it weren’t for you meddling males.”

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.

Two grizzled, burly men play darts. The pinpoint accuracy of the men impresses us, but it does not impress the main character of our production, a woman. Some clever wordplay ensues in which the woman, while downing shots of a highly alcoholic drink, subtly and confidently implies that she can beat both of them. “You? But, you’re just a woman,” the men say. They laugh. They laugh harder when she downs that alcoholic drink without so much as a grimace, as she prepares to stand. They’re near hysterics when she takes a dart, and she looks at the laughing men while throwing the dart. She doesn’t even look at the dartboard. The dart hits the center of the target so hard that it blasts through the center, and the wall behind it, where it hits an oxygen tank in a neighboring medical supplies store. The explosive blast sends the two men, now locked in silent awe, through the wall of the saloon and out into the highway. The blast only musses the dart-throwing female’s gorgeous locks of hair a little. She calmly walks toward the men with other blasts, from other oxygen tanks, exploding in her background as she nonchalantly steps on the highway. The 110lb woman then picks one of the 250lb men up with her index finger, as he whimpers, begging for mercy. She ignores his pleas and pulls him in closer, whispering, “And you, you’re just a man.” She then pulls out her sawed off shotgun and blows the man’s head clean off.

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.

*“There are three things,” according to author Scott Adams, “to know about human beings in order to understand why we do the things we do.

  • Humans use pattern recognition to understand their world.
  • Humans are very bad at pattern recognition
  • And they don’t know it.”

We see patterns in movies, because most of them follow patterns. As Roger Ebert once said, “The motto in Hollywood is if something works, try, try and try it again.” Movies also fall into patterns because movie makers are lazy, they’re not as creative as we think, they to try to affect social change, and they know how much we love patterns. We find patterns pleasing, and they make us feel smart when we figure them out. We find those artistic enterprises that don’t follow our patterns “confusing,” “weird,” and “hard to follow.” They usually end up in “art house” bargain bins. 

We want movies to follow patterns, because we want life to follow patterns. We want to be able to figure people, places and things out. We want to be smart and being smart means spotting outcomes before they occur. We use pattern recognition to predict how others will act and react on a situational basis. We’re wrong on occasion, but we don’t expect to be right all of the time, and we focus on the times when we were right. We’re wrong in life as often as we are when we watch Jeopardy! Yet, how many of us knew the answer soon after the Jeopardy! contestant provided it? We clinch our fists in frustration, because we were so close to getting the answer before they did. How many of us accumulate so many of those almost-got it, should’ve-known, and after-the-fact answers that we actually believe we knew the answer, and we knew so many of those answers that we now consider ourselves trivia masters?

How many after-the-fact, should’ve-known trivia masters, who know a little something something about human nature, can tell us what we’re going to do next, after we do it? “I knew you were going to do that,” they say.

“Wait a second,” we say when they do this to us one too many times. “I already did it. You’re brilliant at predicting what I’m going to do next, after I do it, but if you want any credit for predicting what I’m about to do, you have to say something before I do it.”

“But if I tell you,” they say, “you’ll do something else to prove me wrong.”    

“Fine,” we say. “Tell someone else. Whisper it to them. If that person verifies that you were right, we can start putting together your scorecard.” 

They might have a brilliant response for us, regarding how they knew what we were going to do. They might be able to provide interesting details regarding their meticulous study of human nature, their knowledge of us, and their observational skills in general, but they didn’t put that knowledge on the line when it counted. They might know the patterns and routines of humans, and they might say they can use that knowledge to predict what we’re going to do next, but most of us aren’t as great as recognizing patterns as we think. 

***

The last emotional, irrational cerebral crush I had on someone was a man named John Douglas, a man many credit with being the first to use the art of profiling to capture serial killers. Douglas used extensive interviews with serial killers to gain insight into the mind of men who do such things. His book influenced the creation of the movie Silence of the Lambs, and Netflix later used Douglas’ book Mindhunter for a series of the same name. Silence of the Lambs wasn’t the first movie to focus on the magic of criminal profiling, but it launched the idea of it into the zeitgeist. The idea that certain people exhibit certain patterned behavior can predict future crimes seemed so obvious that we couldn’t believe no one ever thought of it before. If you’re looking for a serial killer, these profiles suggested, look for a single, white man who has military experience and mother issues, and is between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five. Look for a guy who visits the scene of the crime. Look for the guy who pulled the wings off grasshoppers and tortured other small animals in his youth. Of course, we think, he’s just like my cousin Kirk. I always knew he’d grow up to be a serial killer.   

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.

The cerebral crush I developed involved far too many emotions, as I fell in love with what I considered Douglas’ rational deductions and persuasive prose. I ignored the idea that Douglas’ study of patterns in human behavior often led to after-the-fact, educated guesses that could help law enforcement officials gain convictions. This earns the “Wait a second …” question all authors dread. Wait a second, I thought your book implied that following the patterns of behavior could lead to the apprehension of suspects that were on the loose. It’s been a while since I’ve read this book, but in my opinion Douglas is not the creative genius he purported to be in this regard. I believed that this veteran FBI expert had enough experience in his field to spot patterns beyond otherwise trivial coincidences. I’ve since heard that veteran law enforcement officials groan when their superiors call profilers in on a case, in the same manner they groan when psychics are called upon. 

John Douglas was correct on occasion, and he trumpeted his success in his book, but how often was his attempts to use patterns of human characteristics and behavior to pinpoint the serial killer wrong? Douglas did not provide a scorecard for his “creative thinking” in his book, but he did confess that there could be a psychic component to it. “If there is a psychic component to this, I won’t run away from it, though I regard it more in the realm of creative thinking.” This line led to some of us to run away from him. 

The “creative thinking” that some credit Douglas for starting is so ubiquitous in movies and TV shows now that we all know the bullet points, and the procedures that profilers use. We know them so well that we can spot the serial killer twenty minutes into any production. We know, for example, that when the head strong, female FBI agent creates a profile on an Episcopalian from Newark, New Jersey that she’s hot on the trail. None of the other FBI agents can see the correlation between the Episcopalian religion and someone wanting to tear the head off buxom young collegiate blondes, but she has a gut instinct based on years of experience, and we know she’s right. We don’t understand why the other male FBI agents don’t see how the trail she carefully lays out that will lead to the correct suspect. They begrudgingly see the errors of their ways before the credits roll, but they don’t want to give her the credit she deserves. That would shake up their whole world.

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.  

If we know the pattern, we can spot the climax of a movie far before it arrives, a punchline of a joke before the joke teller gets there, and the return to the refrain of a song, after the bridge, before the band starts in on it. The idea that we can detect patterns and predict outcomes pleases us, and it makes us feel more intelligent for spotting it. We then employ that confidence in our ability to figure out patterns and see coincidences in our everyday interactions to know the people, places, and things around us a little better. The question we rarely ask ourselves, because we rarely remember when we guessed incorrectly, is how often are we wrong? The complicated algorithm can be broken down to a line the Coen Brothers wrote for the actor who played The Dude in The Big Lebowski, “That’s just, like, your opinion man.”

***

I never personally encountered one of those “supercomputers” from the sci-fi movies in the 50’s and 60’s. Those supercomputers were the size of a large room, and the moviemakers depicted them as having knowledge beyond human capacity. The supercomputers in these movies are usually entities in their own right with some ominous one-to-two syllable name, and the movies rarely mention a human programmer. The humans in the movie feed these allegedly autonomous computers data for a problem they want to solve and the “supercomputers” spit out an answer on a tiny, yellow slip of paper (it’s always yellow for some reason). The autonomous computers has data on the patterns of human behavior, and it spits out an answer allegedly not subject to human opinions and biases. If that were the case, one would think that the yellow slip of paper would say, “not much will change in the next fifty years.” That would not move the plot of the movie well, nor would a prediction that suggested, “There will be nothing but good times ahead for the human race.” The prediction on that yellow slip of paper is almost always dreadfully negative, and it’s often something we can’t handle. The only suitable answer, for the characters of the movie is to destroy the supercomputer before it infects the world with its brand of unbiased truth.

Movies operate in patterns humans don’t.  

Hindsight now allows us to view these scary, sci-fi movies as silly. The fear of computers, robots, or any artificial intelligence progressing past human intelligence is evergreen, but the idea that those archaic, room-length 1950’s machines could act independent of a programmer’s influence, or the movie maker’s influence, seems so silly now. We know those yellow slips of paper displayed a prediction based the mover maker’s opinion based upon an “expert’s” opinion, dressed up as a fact from a computer that allegedly escaped the bounds of human opinion and bias. If we could find one of those room length supercomputers from the 50’s to recreate the situation, we’d ask, “Okay, great, now who programmed this computer?” Computers are still not autonomous at this point, and they are still programmed with an opinion, based on an opinion, dressed up as a fact.

When we bite into a bland piece of chicken, loaded with preservatives, one of the first questions we ask is how many generations ago was this piece of meat actually attached to a chicken? We could ask the same questions of facts we receive from our modern, yellow slips of paper from a computer or device, in the form of search engine results, “Who wrote this?” Who provided the data for that modern, yellow slips of paper, and how many generations ago was this answer a primary source fact? 

The response writers of search engine results might have is that their answers are based on agreed upon historical facts, but how much of human history is based on some form of propaganda? How do other countries view our historical facts? Are there any discrepancies? The old saying is that winners write the history books. If that’s the case, how much of our history is based on propaganda, and an opinion based on an opinion of that propaganda that leads to an agreed upon fact? How many generations ago was that fact, upon which we all base our opinions, a fact? How many different incarnations has this grapevine truth gone through before it reached us?

We’ve all heard the George Santayana quote, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.” I’ll confess that I’ve probably used this quote as often as anyone else has without vetting it thoroughly. I also never read a contrarian, like author Scott Adams, dissect the quote and question its greater value. I heard so many brilliant minds drop this quote whenever people, or their leaders, were on the precipice of disaster that I did not question it enough. My prior interpretation of this quote was that if we study the patterns from the past, it will help us know more about our present, and it might help us in future endeavors. If human history is based upon an opinion, based on an opinion from some propaganda, based on a perceived pattern that led to some fact that we now all consider true, how often do we know what’s going happen in the future, how often will we be wrong, and how often will we have to repeat if necessary?

If we follow the patterns of history, will we learn that they are always going to be some human beings who are inherently violent, corrupt, and deceptive? Do we need to study patterns in history to know that? Can we use the map of past human behavior to dictate how we should act and react to others in the future, maybe, when it comes to specific individuals, but how does studying the interactions between ancient Athens and Rome help a country in their current relations with Uruguay? Adams alluded to the idea that the Santayana quote might help naïve leaders who believe that specific leaders of generally corrupt countries will somehow act less than corrupt when the naïve leader proposes laying a path for a new relationship. If that leader and his people fail to study the patterned history of this country, and its leader, they will be doomed to repeat the failures of other leaders who believed they could achieve a different result.

Humans are inherently routine, some might argue, and if we study their general patterns and the trends in history and society today, we can understand how humans will react on a situational basis. We know that residents of South Dakota will react different from residents of Uruguay, but if we gain a general sense of human nature and interaction, we might be able to determine human behavior through patterns. Maybe, to a certain degree, on a case-by-case basis, and depending on situation or issue involved, but how many qualifiers do we need to add to reach a desired conclusion that supports our thesis, opinion, and our biased worldview? If we dig deep enough, in our study of patterns, we (like my friend who could correctly guess what I was going to do after I did it) might find data that supports our opinion and makes us feel like a genius student of human behavior. Our best bet, according to Scott Adams, is stop searching for patterns, trends, and coincidences when trying to figure human nature out, because we’re wrong more often than we’re right. Our best bet is to remove our desire, our need need to be right, and the ego it feeds and admit that we are flawed prognosticators who can predict what will happen in the future.  

How many times have we had someone or something all figured out, only to discover that we were wrong? How many times do we rely on patterns, trends, and the overwhelming, “how could you miss it”, coincidences to figure something or someone out? How many of times have we realized that we were so wrong that we’ve been all wrong, all along? Here’s a line some of us love, “I’m more right than they know.” Some of us love that line so much that we live it. Some of us smile a conspiratorial smile in the face of a correction, believing that they do not know now how right we are, but they will … eventually. They will eventually see the light. They consult their experts, we consult ours, but how often are experts wrong? It depends on who you ask and which experts we consult. We passionately believe our informed beliefs system, and they passionately believe theirs. Who wins, who loses, who cares? Our best bet might be to avoid using other’s opinions to inform our opinion on patterns in human behavior, and while we’re at it, we might want to delete our opinions when trying to form an opinion too. Our best bet is if one way doesn’t work, try another. 

*Adams, Scott, Loserthink, 2019, New York, Penguin, page 66

A Review of the Netflix Series: Home Game


Most people love sports, yet most of us never bothered to ask why. The wide variety of answers for why we love sports might never be apparent to us, unless we meet someone who doesn’t love it at all. We might not be able to learn why we love sports by watching the Netflix series Home Game, and it won’t curb our appetite for specific sports, but it will show the uncomplicated love some people have for their sport, and it might remind us why we love ours.

Home Game’s documentary about Florence, Italy’s sport of Calico Storico will not satisfy anyone who misses American football or rugby. The documentary about the Kyrgystan sport of Kok Boru will not satisfy anyone who misses basketball or polo, and a horseracing fanatic is probably not going to experience satisfaction watching riders pushing water buffalo through a flooded rice field, in Bali’s sport Makepung Lampit. What we will see are the staples of sport. We’ll see the passion, determination, and the temerity it takes to conquer an opponent. We also see an element of sports that we don’t talk about enough, the arduous, sometimes excruciating training it can take to become a champion of any sport. Our initial response might be to view some of the games depicted in these episodes as silly, particularly the Makepung Lampit sport that involves throwing a dead goat in a large, cement vase, but from that vantage point, all sports seem silly. In many first world countries, ten guys try to force a ball through a hoop in basketball. In the third world country of Kyrgyzstan, four guys try to force a dead goat into a large, cement vase. What’s the difference? Would the Kyrgyz or the Balinese people view the idea that first world sports involve crossing lines and putting other balls and pucks in other goals of various sizes as silly too? What would they think of the sport that involves an athlete putting a ball in a can from a great distance, in as few attempts as possible? The point is that we can view all sports as silly on a micro level, but on a macro level what are they but a vehicle for displaying athletic prowess.

We can be sure the documentarians of Home Game did not choose the relatively obscure sports they did to help those sports achieve more popularity, and I doubt the sports will gain a greater following. It’s more likely that they chose the most obscure sports they did to examine the psychology of sports through an alternative lens. When we hear/read interviews of our favorite top tier athletes, they often use boilerplate language that becomes so common we don’t remember much of what they said five minutes after the interview is complete. It might have something to do with the fact that almost all of these episodes deal with sports in different countries, but they appear to give fresh insight into the art of competition, and the desire to win. English is not the native tongue of most of the competitors in the interviews, but we realize that the desire, the will, and the temerity it takes to win and eventually become a champion are a universal language. Most of the episodes require subtitles, and while that might turn some viewers off, it’s equivalent to watching sports with the volume off.

In one episode, we meet a champion named Guyga. Guyga is the champion of West Kinashasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s version of WWF that they call Catch Fetiche. We see kids and teenagers triumphantly run alongside Guyga. We see him train, we hear him talk about his training, and we witness his drive to be the best. After meeting Guyga, the documentarians introduce us to other Catch Fetiche wrestlers, and they engage in similar rhetoric. It’s similar, but for reasons we can’t put our finger on, it’s different. There was something there, and we missed it, so we rewind back to the introduction of Guyga. We see the difference in his walk, this time, and we know we’ve seen that stride before. It’s Mike Tyson entering the ring in the late 80’s, it’s Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan in the 90’s. It’s a champion at his peak. It’s in his shoulders when he walks, and in his stride. When we see Guyga’s face again, we see, without knowing anything else about the sport of Catch Fetiche that Guyga is its champion. In a later shot, Guyga flexes before the camera, and his musculature is impressive, but his face is what we find captivating. He doesn’t appear as thrilled to be on camera as the rest of us are, but he doesn’t shy away from it either. His far off stare that suggests he’s seen battle many times before, and he wins far more often than he loses. The Congolese who run with him make a big fuss about him, and again, he doesn’t appear to need their adulation, but he doesn’t shy away from it either. He’s accustomed to it. He’s accustomed to glory. His stride, and his demeanor, reminds us of the quarterback of our state champion high school football team, the Heisman Trophy winner in college, and the MVP in the NFL. We recognize that for all the tangibles we attain from athletic pursuit, an intangible quality reveals itself in the walk and the face of a champion.

If Guyga decided to retire from the Congolese, voodoo version of the WWF, Catch Fetiche, and he moved to America, and worked in a cubicle next to ours, we’d know there was something different about him. “What’s up with you?” we’d say. “You’re the new guy, yet you walk around the office like a rooster in a henhouse.”

“I used to be a champion in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he’d say. “Have you ever heard of Catch Fetiche? No one around here has, I used to be the champion of it.”

“I knew it,” we’d say. “I knew there was something different about you.”

In the roller derby episode from Austin, Texas, we see some subtle contrasts between Guyga and the Mad Maxican. After witnessing the glory of an individual champion who has it dripping from every pore, we listen to the roller derby team members speak, and we play a game called spot the champion. We might know more about roller derby than we do Catch Fetiche, but we still know very little. After witnessing Guyga, we think we can spot the look of a champion from a mile away. We think we see it on the face of a key player, who calls herself Ninja Please. The meeker Mad Maxican doesn’t quite have the confident/arrogant demeanor about her that Ninja Please did. Yet, when they take the floor, the Mad Maxican thoroughly outperforms Ninja Please. Why were so wrong about the Mad Maxican? Does it have something to do with the elevated expectations we have when someone says all the right things, as the Ninja Please character did? Does it have something to do with the idea that women, in general, are more humble, and harder to read in this sense, or does it have something to do with the difference between a team player and one who achieves individual glory? Is there an unsung player on the Mad Maxican’s team, who makes her success possible? Is this unsung hero equivalent to an all-star guard on the line of an NFL team, without whom the stars on the team couldn’t achieve half the success they do? We don’t know, because the documentarians don’t delve into those particulars. Perhaps, the Mad Maxican has a quiet confidence about her that doesn’t shine through in interviews. Whatever the case is, we see the contrast of individual successes can have on a person like Guyga and the team success the Mad Maxican enjoys.  

In an episode that covers The Highland Games, in Scotland, the documentarians introduce us to a former champion training an individual who wants to become a future champion. We see the faded glory in that former champion’s face. The athletic achievements of his past instill in him an apparent lifelong confidence, but there’s something missing in his face. We see how much he misses the glory of being a champion. We see the “Youth is wasted on the young” Churchill quote personified in the man that suggests the former champion wishes he appreciated his moment in the sun more.

The episode that Netflix used to promote the series and the one that appears to be garnering most of the critical attention is the first episode in the series depicting a sport called Calico Storico (historical football in English). Calico Storico is the equivalent of rugby meets martial arts. There are linemen who fight on the front line, as in American football, and two ball carriers. The ball carriers attempt to drop a ball in a field-length net. Four teams fight to be champions of Florence, Italy. There’s no money involved, just the pride of the players. The prize for victory is a cow. They don’t slaughter the cow to triumphantly eat it. They simply just walk down the street with it, in a victory parade. Some criticize this episode as a bunch of meatheads plowing into each other, but that criticism misses the mark. Those critics don’t see the passion, the will, or the sheer determination these men put into achieving victory. They prefer to see the sport through a political lens. If the documentarians chose to focus on a woman attempting to enter into Calico Storico, these critics would enjoy the episode more, but there is very little politics in any of the documentaries of Home Game. The documentaries choose to place their focus on the simplicity of athletic competition and athletic achievement. As opposed to modern American football players, the athletes in Calico Storico love their ultra-violent sport so much that they want their children to play in it. One athlete chooses to live in a specific part of the country, so his kid would have a chance to play for the team he did. They suffer minor to severe injuries for their sport, but the prospect of such injuries doesn’t diminish their love of the game.  

The beauty of Home Game beauty is that it reminds us of the unadulterated love of sports. Their love of sports calls to mind the prima donnas of most sports who take their status as a top-tier athlete for granted. If some of their athletes depicted in these documentaries play their beloved sport for money, the documentarians do not mention it in the episodes. The conditions of the countries of most of these documentaries suggest that if the athletes make any money, it’s a relatively paltry sum and not the reason they play the game. The documentarians focus each episode on the beauty of sport without much distraction. Almost all of the sports depicted are unique to our experience, but they detail in the faces of fans and athletes alike, that the language of sports is universal.

Dissected properly, just about every episode of Home Game teaches us a different element of sports that we might not have considered before. They provide us an outsider-looking-in perspective of what it means for the athletes to compete, what it takes to win, and what it means, to them, to become a champion. We see the captivated fans in the stands celebrating goals of a game hundreds to thousands years old. As we watch their game, we see the thrill of their favorite team scoring a goal, the disappointment of seeing their team scored on, the thrills they experience after victory and the agony of defeat. We see ourselves, from their perspective, we remember vicariously enjoying and celebrating the athletic accomplishments of others, and we realize how much we miss it. We appreciate their love of sport from a distance, and it touches us in a very familiar place at the same time.

An Unhealthy Competitive Streak


“The next time we play a video game, can we do it without complaining so much and criticizing each other?” my son asked me. The question was illustrative on so many levels. I know that I’m an overly competitive person who can get a little frustrated when I don’t succeed in video games, but I didn’t think I was so competitive that it was affecting my relationship with my son. I saw friends of mine pound their face into coin-op game screens, when I was younger. I heard kids swear so loud in arcades that I was embarrassed to be around them, and I knew kids who viewed their inability to get to the next level of a computer game as some sort of personal failing. I remember these kids, because they were so hilarious. Now, my son implied that I might be one of them.

Anyone who knows a seven-year-old knows that seven-year-olds don’t imply. They discovered language fairly recently, and they don’t fully understand the full power of it. They say the meanest, most awful things, and if their words offend you, that’s on you. We might use their comments as examples of what not to do. We might take them by the hand to help them retrace their steps to show them how others might misconstrue their words as offensive, but those lessons require months and years of repetition, and in the interim, we have to deal their unvarnished truth.  

Most fathers want to spend time with their kids. Most fathers want their kids to enjoy spending time with them. My son wanted to play games with me, and he wanted to have as much fun as the father-son combo did on a YouTube video he watched. I watched this YouTube video with him, of a father and son playing a game together, and they did appear to be having one heck of a good time. My son wanted to do that with me. I, too, wanted to play a game with him just for the fun of it, but to do so, I knew I would have to reverse engineer some 35 years of conditioning.

If you’re the type who plays games, because you enjoy playing games at the end of the day, and you don’t really care if you win or lose, you can stop reading now. You can leave with the knowledge that I envy your healthy mindset, but I could probably never be friends with you.

For the rest of us, it’s always all about winning. Our grandfathers taught our fathers to teach us that there’s something special about winning, and it’s something that we all need to learn. We need to learn it, they suggest, because we need to be it. Winning is an attitude we need to learn when we’re young, and a life well lived is all about fortifying that attitude with our own special ingredients. It doesn’t matter if you’re an aspiring businessman who is willing to risk it all for a profitable business, playing a video game with your kid, or joining a group of young girls you’ve never met before in a game of hopscotch, it’s all about winning.

When I played games as a kid, video and otherwise, I don’t remember ever doing it for fun. Games weren’t fun for me then, and they aren’t now. Games are a test of my abilities and the qualities of my character. I still remember some games I won in sports, when I was young, and some of the games I lost still weigh on my soul. Some games require strategy, some require brute force, and others require some combination of the two? Video games rely on strategy, ingenuity, and all of the creative ways a player can find to defeat their opponent? These games involve one winner and one loser, and it wasn’t enough for us to finish second when I was younger. If you finished second, you lost. Before those of my generation dismiss this argument that there might be something wrong with being overly competitive, we have to consider how unhealthy this mindset can be at times.

We all love to read stories about how six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan needed to beat everyone on the team bus in checkers, cards and any game he could think up. We love to hear about how NFL Quarterback Phillip Rivers constantly challenging his teammates to a game of dominoes, and how Tom Brady needs to beat everyone he knows in any game that they want to play. It wasn’t enough for these guys to be at the top of their respective fields, they needed to win relatively meaningless games in their free time. These three decorated and accomplished athletes have a ferocious, almost to the point of the unhealthy, appetite to win all the time. Some suggest this ferocious competitive nature is what separates them from those of equal ability, but is there a another side to their stories, a dark side?

What would those people who love to hear stories about famously competitive athletes think if Phillip Rivers upended a table after losing a game of dominoes to his seven-year-old son? Phillip Rivers never did this, as he likely has a very healthy hold on his competitive instincts now, but if he did, wouldn’t we say that’s a little unhealthy? We can guess that Rivers probably never felt the need to do that, because he has an outlet for his ferocious competitive instincts. He has already accomplished great feats among the greatest athletes in the world, and such a display would speak of frustration. My guess is that earning one of the most prestigious positions in all of sports quells those frustrations and any other sense of unhappiness that would drive such a display.

Yet, how does one earn one of the most difficult and prestigious positions of  quarterback in the NFL. How does one earn such a position when they lack the athletic talent necessary to achieve it, as many have said Tom Brady does. How much drive does that require, and is there an ugly side of that drive that no one discusses in these fun-loving, “He’s so insanely competitive” stories?

Most of us would be satisfied to be the starting quarterback of one of the most prestigious college football teams in America, as Tom Brady did at Michigan, some might be satisfied just to be drafted to play quarterback in the NFL, then start. We might consider it a life well lived to earn chance to play in just one Super Bowl. For Tom Brady, that wasn’t enough. He worked through whatever demons chase a player throughout a season to appear in nine of them and win six. Does Tom Brady have a secret formula to maintaining such a consistent, championship levels of success, or does the state of being perpetually unsatisfied almost require some level of perpetual unhappiness and inner frustration? We all know the follow-up joke to this. If a coach, or a fan, learned that certain levels of unhappiness drove Brady and Jordan to win six championships, they’d ask what do I have to do to get four or five more unhappy, frustrated people on my team? It’s funny, because it’s true that professional sports teams, corporations, and anything and everything between want ferociously competitive people who crave whatever challenges put in their way to greater achievement. 

Does being unsatisfied with some success lead to more success, or is there some measure of fundamental unhappiness and frustration attached? Imagine being Tom Brady’s sibling, growing up, knowing that every time he loses he’s going to freak out and upend the table? Imagine purposefully losing to him, so he doesn’t cause a scene. Imagine what you might have to do to keep such a person happy as a spouse. Imagine being their seven-year-old child, and your dad questions your character when you’re not able to keep up with them in a game of Super Mario Brothers Deluxe. We probably assume such people don’t take it home with them, but if they’re that competitive, we have to assume that their loved ones see some of the components of the dark side that drive their ferocious, competitive instincts.

I’m sure that there are men and women from as far away as China and Liechtenstein who think it’s not worth playing the game if you don’t do everything humanly possible to win, but the idea that narrowly finishing second destroys a person emotionally appears endemic to males who are Americans.

If we enter into a friendly contest for money, and we lose that contest by cents, it upsets some of us so much that we can’t sleep at night. Most second place finishers might feel some frustration by being so close to winning, but some view this as just as devastating as a last place finish loss by hundreds of dollars. I’m competitive, and I might be so bad that it’s a little unhealthy, but that ferocious level of competition is something I can’t completely comprehend.

If I suffer from this unusual, and unhealthy, need to win, that does not extend to games of chance. I know I have no control of the dice or the next card a dealer sends me. These games involve some strategy, and an advanced poker player could clean me out in under an hour, but there’s still an overriding element of chance to these games. Gamblers talk about the thrill of victory, and I’ve experienced that, but my experience with games of chance almost always involves the agony of defeat. If I ever won, other than the few times listed below, I might develop a problem, but I’ve never had a problem with gambling.   

I may be upset when chance doesn’t roll my way, but it does not destroy me emotionally. These are games of chance, and I know if I get lucky, I don’t expect that luck to continue. In a friendly game of craps, for instance, I once committed what others considered a cardinal sin of pulling my money off the table in the middle of a hot streak. I knew my luck couldn’t continue, and I knew that with every roll, so I stopped right in the midst of it. I did so, in my opinion, before my luck could run out. I was satisfied by my meager winnings, and I knew that the chances that I would continue to win were against me. My friends complained that true craps players don’t pull their money off the table, without giving the other players a chance to win their money back. “But I was playing against the house,” I said.

“Still,” they said. “It’s considered poor gamesmanship to take the money and run. Plus, if you let it ride, you could’ve been the biggest winner of the day. You were on a roll.” 

To their utter amazement, I was just fine with my meager winnings.

I did this again, sometime later in a poker game. This time, I let my money ride and ended up finishing second. If anyone, anywhere, considers this bragging, I add that in a lifetime of playing these stupid games of chance, there’s a reason these two instances are memorable. The game ended with me drawing one relatively inferior card, and I finished one card away from winning the pot. I finished second in the winnings of that day, and I had no designs on playing a bluff and pushing my pot to the middle. I was perfectly happy to finish second that day, and that didn’t make sense to my friends.

It didn’t matter to them that I played the big money winner down to the final hand. It didn’t matter to them that I managed to walk away with the second most money. He won. I lost. Game over.  

“You need to learn how to lose if you ever hope to win,” Woody Allen’s mom once told him. I don’t care if you’re Tom Brady, Tony Gwynn, or Michael Jordan, you’re going to lose more than you win in life. Tony Gwynn didn’t get a hit 66.2% of the time, Michael Jordan missed 50.3% of the shots he took, and Tom Brady had to fight in college and in the early years of his NFL career to become, and remain, a starting quarterback for those squads. We need to learn to manage and learn from our losses if we ever hope to win. Yet, we don’t want to manage it too well, for as O.J. Simpson said, “He who loses well loses often.”  

I apparently didn’t manage losing well, as evidence by the fact that I don’t win often enough. “But did you have fun?” my mom would ask to start the healing process after I finished second. “If you did, that’s all that matters.” She enjoyed racing her peers, when she was young. She didn’t care if she won. She just enjoyed spending time with friends. She had the healthy mindset of course, but it didn’t ease my sense of devastation. Having fun was for girls as far as I was concerned. I enjoyed winning, and I wanted to beat my opponent so bad that I demoralized them.

There was one kid I could never beat in one particular game. There was nothing I could do different to beat this kid. He was just better than me at this game. He didn’t rub it in, and he didn’t celebrate his victories in any way. He was just better than me, and he knew it. When I finally overcame him, I continued to play hard, and ran up the score. “How’s this any fun for you?” he asked. “Do you enjoy humiliating me?”

“I do,” I said. “I consider it fun.”

Seven-year-olds know nothing of these complexities. They want to win when they play sports, and they want to beat video games, and they feel some frustration when they don’t. They might even see upending tables as a way of coping with loss, until they see an example of the opposite. They might also find playing video games with Dad to be less than fun, because he always gets so upset, and he’s always criticizing me and complaining about his own inability to defeat the game. Seven-year-olds don’t view the video game as a vicarious way of accomplishing what they can’t do in real life. They might view getting past stage eleven of the game as a moment of pride, but they don’t have the baggage on their back that the rest of us do. They don’t lord it over their friends who haven’t done it. They just think that video games are fun, and they look like more fun when others play it than when we do.

After my son issued his character-defining challenge, I accepted it and attempted to erase my lifelong conditioning, and I did it. When we played the game together, and he fell behind, I patiently waited for him to catch up. When he killed us, I said, “Hey, it’s just a game.” He freaked out however. When I fell behind, or caused us to die, he was rude, insensitive, and ferociously competitive. “What happened?” I asked. “I thought we were supposed to be playing this game without criticizing each other or complaining?” He had no answer for that, which led me to believe that as hard as I focused on putting my conditioned responses in the off position for one game, he couldn’t do the same with the conditioned responses I taught him.

The Biological Control of Flatulence


Farts are funny. It’s immature to laugh at them, but we can’t help it. We’ve all dealt it, and we’ve all smelt it. Its universal appeal stretches across demographic lines, income brackets, and various levels of sophistication and intelligence. We might laugh out loud, behind a hand, or wait until the alleged perpetrator has left the room, but sooner or later, most of us will be laughing. Depending on how bad it smells, flatulence might be the one bodily function that offends everyone and no one at the same time. It embarrassed us (most of us) when we do it, but most of us don’t mind laughing at ourselves most of the time. The jokes we tell about them play as well in the seediest bars as they do in the most refined churches. They’re funny, and we laugh, but are we laughing so hard that we forget to ask why we have at least some ability to control this biological quirk?

Those of us who have a layman’s interest in evolution find it fascinating to read scientific theories regarding the most basic bodily functions we all take for granted. The theories are based, in part, on evolution and natural selection, but they are just theories. Most of these discussions involve relatively trivial, yet fascinating theories regarding why we have the ability to blink, fingernails, earlobes, and goosebumps. We don’t analyze these actions, because what’s there to analyze? Have you ever met a person who couldn’t blink. A friend of mine had this problem, due to necessary surgeries, and she had to regularly drop saline into her eyeballs. I didn’t value my ability to blink before I met her, and I never appreciated the greater mechanization of the human body before I met those who have a deficit in the basic functionalities we all take for granted. 

Most of our functions were born of need. If animals didn’t have levels of functionality necessary for survival, they either developed them or went extinct. When the species found a way to survive, a level of natural selection occurred, in which the animals passed those adaptations along. How has the otherwise indefensible ball of mush, we call the octopus, managed to survive hundreds of millions of years? They adopted and adapted various intricate survival techniques that are almost inexplicable to science.

At one point in human history, early humans realized they were near the bottom of the food chain, and they tried to find ways to neutralize the other animals’ dominance. In the course of developing weapons and other techniques necessary for survival, they developed the most complex organ in the animal kingdom, the human brain. Fossil records indicate that the human brain grew in size, relative to the body from early primates to the current Homo sapiens. The need to survive, in other words, dictated our brain’s current size and complex level of functionality. The owl needs acute vision to see small prey from their perch high up in trees, and they need to be able to fly down to catch them. Due to the complexities of the human brain, we didn’t need either of these abilities to survive, so we never developed them.

We don’t need goosebumps, but according to some theories, humans may have needed them at one time to ward off prey. When man was more hairy, the goosebumps made the air stand up and appear more abundant, so they would appear larger to the prey. The other, more widely accepted theory is that our hairier ancestors strengthened their hair fibers to stay warm, and the scientists suggest that raised hairs trap air to create insulation in a manner we still use. Thus, when we’re creeped out or cold, our brain still sends a message to the body to raise the hair fibers or strengthen them to make what we have more abundant, or appear more abundant. The point is that there’s nothing really interesting about basic, common bodily functions, until we delve into the idea theories regarding why we have them. 

If we have scientific explanations for why we might have needed something as trivial as goosebumps, why no explanation for the control we have of gaseous releases? Ashley Cowie wrote an interesting, historical guide to famous flatulence in history that includes stories of fart gods and various other spiritual connections to the breath between the legs, and the idea that if a person pushed hard enough they could “fart out their soul”. Other articles list some scientific theories we have to explain the biological need to release gas from the system. There are scientific explanations to explain why some flatulence smells and others don’t. There are even scientific explanations to explain why some farts are louder than others are, but there are no scientific theories I can find to explain why we can control (for the most part) the force and volume.

All animals have this ability of course, but humans are the only ones who voluntarily deploy it on a regular basis for entertainment purposes. Watch a young wild animal let one go, and the force and volume is apt to startle them. Older animals, like older humans, are unmoved by them. Some humans say they do it to gain relief, others suggest they require it for medicinal purposes, but most of us just do it for fun. Was there ever a reason for this ability, a source for it that would define its need in such a way that we enhanced it?

The science behind it suggests that the volume of flatulence depends on how much gas we have bottled up and/or how tight the sphincter is. The digestive system needs to remove/release gas, and if it served that biological need alone, the rectum would be similar to a building’s exhaust flapper. Instead, we have muscles that we can voluntarily (for the most part) expand and contract to release anything we want, at any volume, to disrupt or enhance, social gatherings, and no one has come up with a sufficient explanation why.

Some have theorized that louder flatulence might be equivalent to some sort of biological alarm to warn us when there is too much CO2 in our system. The louder the flatulence, the more CO2 buildup we have, and the greater need for one to switch to a healthier diet. If true, that might explain why some flatulence is louder, but it doesn’t explain how we arrived at this ability and if natural selection played any role in it. We don’t need the control now, but we don’t need goosebumps either, so why do we have these abilities? Is it possible that at one time, a time when modes of communication weren’t what they are now, prehistoric man manipulated their flatulence to communicate coded levels of alarm to their fellow man? If a wolf was near, they let loose some silent killers to inform those in their clan, by scent, that a wolf was near, stay still, or prepare the weaponry for the hunt. If a sabretooth tiger was near, they let her rip. Is it possible they communicated with flatulence in a manner similar, but different from the Native Americans’ smoke signals, and that which the military would later use with the Morse Code in WWII, and the predators couldn’t figure out our secret signals to one another in time.

Seeking answers for why we have this ability might also help explain our individual view of God. Most Christians believe God created everything from life to the universe and everything in between to support the harmonious relationship between the heavenly bodies. If God created everything from the Sun to Jupiter to the flagellum and the atom to serve a purpose, what was the purpose behind giving us the ability to control the force of our flatulence? Both literal and contextual readers also agree that God gave us autonomy, but they disagree on how much. Literal and contextual readers of The Bible both agree that God is of unlimited omniscience, so the only conclusion we can arrive at is that He knew how we would use this ability. Some might consider it heretical to suggest this, but did God design the intricate anatomy down to the smallest, most insignificant elements of the anatomy, or did He allow for some autonomy on the part of the being in the same manner he provided autonomy of belief? Was the control of the force and volume of our flatulence a gift that He gave us, knowing how we’d use it, and an indicator that He has such a wonderful sense of humor? Did He decide to give us some wholesome fun with our body or, was the ability to control our flatulence a biological quirk we discovered on our own in the process of forcing waste out?  

Atheists, who also happen to be scientists, suggest that too often religious people explain any gaps in modern scientific understanding with the idea that there had to be a miracle involved, and that miracle had to arrive at the hands of a creator. Religious people suggest that scientists do the same and that if God inspired the writers of The Bible to explain everything from creation to goosebumps to this control of our flatulence we might not be having these debates. We probably shouldn’t question the content, or the purpose, of the best-selling book of all time, and it might have damaged The Bible’s legacy as a serious philosophical document to waste time on such trivial matters, but it would’ve also provided us some much-needed information and some levity if God inspired The Bible’s authors to include some incidents, and discussions about, flatulence in the various stories and parables of the book. Whatever the case is, some of us prefer to think that God gave us The Bible as a philosophical road map to figure out the larger things and a progressive intellect to figure out the rest.