Sunday, July 29, 2012

Empowered to death?

My piece on the staple self-help theme that connects firewalks, James Ray, the self-esteem movement and the Colorado theater shooting runs as the anchor piece of the opinion section in today's New York Daily News.

And no, I am not "making too much of this." Unchecked personal empowerment (along with the idea that attacking such mindlessness is so very un-PC) is one of the core problems in latter-day America.

P.S. And, of course, we'll be getting a triple or quadruple dose of this in countless languages over the next two weeks, as every Olympic medal winner steps up to the mic and says in his or her native tongue: "This is a lesson to all the children watching... Never let anyone take away your dreams.... If you can dream it, you can do it!"

Sure you can... If you can also run the 40 in 4 flat, or hit shots from mid-court, or swim like a dolphin on crank...

10 comments:

Yekaterina said...

Nice article.

Steve Salerno said...

Ykat, thanks. I realize this is a tough subject because we don't want to tell people (especially kids) that they suck at stuff and should probably give up. But right now the pendulum is way too far toward the false-hope side of the scale, and it needs to drift back to reality.

Dimension Skipper said...

Are Olympic athletes really mutants?

By George Dvorsky at io9

Athletes who perform at the elite level aren't like the rest of us. Their feats of strength, accuracy, and endurance often appear superhuman — which probably explains why we enjoy watching them so much. And the suggestion that many of these athletes are somehow performing outside of "normal" human bounds is not an exaggeration. Professional sports, it would seem, are being increasingly dominated by the mutants among us.

Humanity is a pretty diverse bunch. We come in all shapes and sizes, and with varying gifts. And it just so happens that some of these variations can lend themselves to specific sports. Some people benefit from happy accidents — physical "mutations" that can help an athlete adapt to a particular sport. It's Darwinian selection on the playing field, with athletes working to attain Dawkinsian fitness peaks (quite literally).

The result of this selectional process is that the last man and woman standing are often way outside the human norm.

. . . .

As tough as it is to admit this, biological advantages are probably the most important factor when considering an athlete's success. There's no question that dedication, training, skill, and access to coaches and facilities are important as well, but they are, for the most part, things that most athletes have anyway — particularly at the pro level. Having to set those factors aside, it's typically the mutants who get to stand on top of the podium.

Steve Salerno said...

Thank you, DimSkip. Very much on point. I remember the article four years ago that diagnosed/diagrammed the freakish collection of physical attributes that make Michael Phelps the elite swimmer he is...or at least was.

Adrian said...

Very nice article. Love the science highlights, the rhetorical flourishes, the dips into schooling and careers not to mention the harmful ego-centrism it breeds. I wish I had anything substantial to add but I don't. Just writing to say I'm forwarding it to my friends & family.

Thanks!

Steve Salerno said...

Thank you, Adrian. Those of us who persist in one of the profession's lower-paying realms (op-ed writing) do so because we hope to strike a chord on the pragmatic level and, with luck, on the literary level (at least to some small degree) as well. Nice to hear that I appear to have done that for at last one reader.

Henriette said...

Speaking of Olympics, I was having a lovely chat about Gabby Douglas' mom having to file for bankruptcy to pay for all that training. What if Gabby hadn't made it? Can you imagine the hardship for that family? Also, Gabby is the youngest of four, so how do they feel about all that being spent on their sister? I just have to wonder about that.

Ryan Lochte's parents are losing their house to foreclosure too.

Steve Salerno said...

Henriette, thanks for those additions to the blog. I guess "empowerment" only takes you so far, huh?

But they'll all make a killing on endorsement deals, so maybe they do know best...

Henriette said...

Steve, I know you are being facetious;)

I don't like to rain on anyone's parade, but there is a reason why the richest countries in the world have the most medals---even if these athletes are human mutants---mutants need to be trained too.

I just wonder about the stories went don't hear about. Little Debbie who is homeless now because she got injured (highly possible) in a match and couldn't go on. Those stories are not going to make the NBC highlight reel.

Also, an athlete today is not the athlete of yesteryear. An Olympic gold medal performance from 1964 probably wouldn't even qualify you in today's Olympics.

Steve Salerno said...

h God, Henrietta, there are countless such stories, and not just during the Olympics. For one, there are the thousands upon thousands of guys who become the human detritus of college football programs; they're just cannon fodder, there to flesh out the field for the impact players. They have no shot at ever making a living at sports, and too often don't even get enough of an education to do anything else.