In Case I Die: Setting a Tone

You’re reading now. This is exciting for me, because I don’t really care about sports and I care very much about comics. We were reading The Oatmeal a few weeks ago, which you seemed to enjoy mostly because there were various characters shitting out rainbows and that does indeed look very funny, and on the way there we made a video detour that was sports-adjacent, and watched a fairly brilliant scene from the first season of Ted Lasso in which Ted rips Jamie a new asshole for skipping practice. 

I love this scene for a couple of reasons: Throughout the episode Ted is experiencing ‘semantic satiation’: Words are losing their meaning when they are repeated too frequently. When Ted puts Jamie on blast he says ‘practice’ over and over and over again and the word’s meaning deepens every time it’s spoken. The symmetry of the writing is beautiful. 

The other thing I love about this is the ethic that Ted is trying to drill into Jamie’s head: Jamie is an incredibly talented person who should set an example and the example he’s setting sucks. 

I love that Ted cares about tone, and I love how hard he tries to make the world the way  he wants it to be, and that his strategy for accomplishing this is to be an example of how that world would work. He expects everyone to be kind, and this expectation reflects his feelings about people in general: He believes in them. 

I’ve had moments in which I’ve wanted to pathologize Ted. It would be easy to say that he’s manipulative and maybe he is, but I distrust my impulse to put him in this box. 

A frequent accusation that was directed toward inmates/students/prisoners of this cult was that we were being ‘manipulative’. This usually arose when we were trying to make a situation better for ourselves, and in an environment of direct, top-down and punitive control, we tried to accomplish this by eliciting feelings from other people in order to get them to act in a certain way. As I’ve aged I’ve realized that in this context accusing someone of ‘manipulation’ was ultimately an effort to penalize them for trying to bring some power to bear against the conditions they faced. It was a way to turn ‘organizing’ into sickness. Of all the tools a person has to change the world, the force of their personality is one of the most difficult to take away. 

This is not to say that there aren’t behaviors that we call manipulative that are harmful. There certainly are. There are tons of people who use shame and fear and jealousy to make money and get famous and accomplish their goals and they’re probably worth examining so that you don’t find yourself getting tricked. 

A thing you’re going to have to think about in your life is how impactful you’re going to be. There’s always a tone, and you’re always participating in setting it and you’re going to have to be especially mindful of this, because you’re a gifted athlete and people pay attention to that in our society. 

So do your best. The gift you have might grant you admiration and admiration bestows a responsibility to set the tone. Lift people up. If they don’t know how to be good then show them.

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