Locker Room Conversation

I had just returned from the shower when I walked into the middle of their conversation. “You don’t read books,” the enormous fat Russian said.

“Nah, I don’t read much,” said the tall skinny kid, a basketball by his feet.

“That much is obvious.”

What followed was the most awkward silence in a gym locker room I’ve experienced. The words hung there, the message all too clear. I had no idea how this conversation had started but I had arrived at its most loaded moment. There were a few of us standing around – myself, the young kid’s friend, the Russian guy’s friend – all waiting to see what would happen next.

Sad to say the kid didn’t look like a big reader. He had the defensive swaggering front thugs put on to cover their ignorance. From a glance you could tell he was the type of kid who never did particularly well in school and, instead of being ashamed, wore it like a badge .

The silent pause went on for a long time. I thought, “I don’t care how big someone is – you never let someone talk to you like that.” If I had a son, I would tell him this. We all stood around waiting for the kid to do something. Either he was too shocked or didn’t know what to do but he did nothing.

The Russian interrupted the silence, “Listen, I don’t mean to insult you. You should read books. In the future, you do this.” Then he walked away.

After he left the kid tried to save face in front of me and his friend. “Like I give a shit what some fat fuck says about me.” He fiddled with the stuff in his locker loudly.

“Did you know him?” his friend asked.

“Nah, no idea. Never met him.” He slammed his locker shut, picked up his basketball and left. Would he use this incident as motivation to learn, to value education, or would he see it as another insult he has to endure in a cold hard world? I’ll never know.

Julius Caeser

When I was a kid learning history I’d wonder, “Was Julius Caesar a good guy or a bad guy?”

It was a question I posed to all the major historical figures we covered – the Roman emperors, Charlemagne, Louis XIV, Richard III, Genghis Khan, and the rest. I also posed it to every American President we studied – “Was this president good or bad?” Posing this question made me think about the terms “good” and “bad.” What made a leader good? What made one bad?

It took me awhile to realize my perspective on each of these figures depended on where I sat. I was raised by hippies so viewed from that lens President Reagan was awful while FDR was the man.

It’s likely if I had been a Roman Senator in ancient Rome, I’d see Caesar as the tyrant who destroyed the Republic and took away all my power. If I were an ancient Gaul I would see Caesar as Hitler – a genocidal thug who exterminated my race. But if I were a Roman citizen, I’d see Caesar as a ruler who removed the Gallic threat, set up an effective government and lowered my taxes to almost nothing.

None of these viewpoints was the “correct” one. There were about as many opinions about Caesar as there were Roman citizens, actually more. Who is to say which one was correct? Whose opinions mattered and whose did not? All were equally valid. Holding one up as “more true” just upsets people. One thing I’ve learned over the years is you can’t talk someone out of how they feel. Telling someone “You’re wrong” gets them angry and more entrenched.

Seeing the world through this multifaceted lens was much more accurate. When I was a kid I saw things strictly in black and white, right and wrong. In this view, being “right” exactly corresponded to my opinions. That was pure egotism – a belief that my truth was the only truth.

The lesson here is to be careful on how you judge. Judging is always done through the lens of your own experience. It’s important to realize that and to instead open your mind and listen to how others feel. Most likely you already know your own thoughts. Getting to know others views is the only thing that remains to be done.