I’m Stumped
Published in

I’m Stumped

Simmer Down

Before you let yourself get all worked up, just take a breath and consider what it is costing you versus what it is adding to someone else. I don’t think that should be your only consideration, but I think it’s a good filter to keep yourself from accidentally being a jerk buoyed by the mistaken belief that you are just being principled.
After 9/11 I had to start removing my shoes to go through airport security. It’s a hassle, especially when I forget and wear laced shoes I have to tie and untie. About two weeks after this policy started I was in line listening to someone go off about how ridiculous it (and the overall increased security) was. His more levelheaded buddy offered “seems like a small price to pay given what’s at stake.”
“Exactly”, I thought. Does it cost me something to have to dump out my water and take off my shoes? Of course, but if I consider the cost/benefit analysis it quickly becomes a pretty ridiculous thing about which to complain,
I’ve been reminded of this in the past few weeks as my Facebook feed has been flooded by posts about a handful of controversies. One was a guy who posted a picture of himself carrying the stars and bars flag on a Christian website. Another was Nike deciding to remove the colonial flag from a pair of shoes. Recently the NBA announced it would stop referring to the people who own their teams as “owners” and start referring to them as “investors” to further distance themselves from slavery and I am already bracing for the things some of my white Christian friends might say in protest of this move. Things like “the liberals are stirring up more controversy as now we can’t even call people who own things ‘owners’ because it makes some people think of slavery.”
So, if you think the guy with the racist flag should be left alone or that Nike shouldn’t have caved to pressure on the flag or that the NBA is being ridiculous for getting rid of the moniker “owner,” this message is for you.
Consider the cost.
Let’s start with Nike. Cards on the table, I am a rather ardent supporter of the swoosh. They make shoes I love and they fuel my local economy in Beaverton and Oregon. I don’t like every corporate decision they’ve ever made, but I generally support the brand. When Kaepernick said the colonial flag was offensive because it was the flag at a time slavery was legal, and Nike removed it, I thought it went too far. I am not willing to throw out everything good in our history or the symbols attached to it just because there is also bad in our history. For me, the colonial flag is a symbol of a time when America threw off tyranny and established one of the greatest beacons for democracy and personal liberty the world has known. I’m not suggesting we ignore slavery or what our ancestors did to the native peoples or how we treated people of color or women or any of the other awful things that are part of our history. I’m just not on board with getting rid of every American symbol or renouncing all national pride until the nation is perfect.
So, I didn’t agree with Kaepernick’s apparent reasoning and did not think Nike should have felt compelled to remove the shoe with the flag.
But what did it cost me? I already own like a dozen pair of red, white and blue sneakers ensuring I am well shod for all patriotic occasions. Nike didn’t pass a law banning the flag. They removed one shoe (that 2 months ago you didn’t even know existed) from its shelves. By the way, most of the people I’ve seen expressing outrage at Nike would never have bought that shoe anyway given how much cooler it was than most of the shoes they own. So what did it cost? Now I don’t have the option to buy an Air Max 1 with an old flag on the heel. So what? The “loss” to me and to you is essentially zero.
But what was gained (or what would have been lost had the shoe remained)? Some people out there would have seen this as one more sign that America was not for them. One of our biggest brands was sending a message that they don’t care about how our history makes you feel. We will happily celebrate an era when people like you were treated as property and you were systematically stripped of your humanity for the sake of commerce. Now as you struggle to find equality and humanity in our country even today, this can be one more reminder that a brand that happily makes billions from athletes of color is just as happy to ignore your pain.
Maybe, that is an illogical emotional response. Maybe that is people being overly sensitive. Maybe you think that reasoning is absurd and even unpatriotic. Or Maybe you are white and don’t have the first idea what it feels like to be a person of color in America. But that response is also a very real, authentic response being felt by real human beings. So who cares about your logic in the abstract when it genuinely makes others feel worse and like they don’t belong and it provides you no benefit? Is the existence of a shoe you didn’t want and had never even conceived of worth making someone else feel bad?
It cost me nothing to have just one fewer colonial flag in the world and one fewer red white and blue sneaker. It cost you nothing too. So, if it cost me nothing and it has the potential to make other people feel better about the Country we share because at least one corporate giant was willing to listen, then isn’t it worth it? Nike didn’t tell you to not have flags. Nike didn’t infringe on your freedom.
So, what are you getting all pissy about? Or do you value your own truth and logic above actual people? Or maybe you preserve your affection only for the people who share your world view?
Now play the same game with yourself regarding your favorite soap box. What if you don’t get to use a word you like because someone finds it offensive? Does it cost you more than it hurts them? What if some organization chooses to do something that doesn’t affect you because they believe it makes some group happier? Does it cost you anything? Is it benefiting someone?
Look, I know being confronted with logical fallacies can get under the skin. But that’s not a good enough reason to tell someone their feelings don’t matter. That’s not enough of a reason to get your way when it changes nothing for you but negatively impacts someone else.
This should not be the only factor in decision making, but the next time you find yourself on the edge of outrage over something someone else did or said ask yourself what it costs and who it benefits. Then reserve your outrage for people and systems that have the power to help and use that power to hurt and try to let the rest go.
Special post script for those who might be reading this and identify as Christian. The Bible is full of teachings, examples, admonitions and commands to be generous, love people and make personal sacrifices for the good of someone else. What if you read those verses asking you to give to the poor as being more than just about money? What if generosity and self-sacrifice included giving up “getting your way” or “getting what you deserve” or “being right” or getting to say and do things you think are fine even when other people get offended? What if we are being called to give not just our money and time, but our comfort and the way we talk and the things we want to write and say for the good of someone else?
Who is expressing generosity? The person who gives a percentage of their earnings and foregoes another luxury? Or the person who gives up saying something that they’ve said all their life because someone else has deemed it offensive? Or the person who listens to an opposing viewpoint they see as logically flawed instead of trying to correct? Perhaps we are called to give up more than just our money. Maybe we are called to give up our entire way of life for the benefit of someone else. I can think of at least one prominent Biblical character that did that in the most literal way possible.
When you consider the costs, consider also what you are wiling to give and then consider what was given to you.

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Joshua Stump

I am a Dad, a husband, a son, a brother, a follower of Jesus, a lawyer, a songwriter, and just generally someone with a lot of strong opinions about stuff.