Op-Ed: It Matters

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A month ago–during MLS Cup weekend–I had the chance to attend TedXSan Diego. If you’re not familiar with the TedX conference series, they are participatory events intended to stimulate “ideas worth spreading.” The event was made more special to me because my brother is one of the organizers.

Emerzian

Emerzian

The first speaker was a mid-30’s-year-old guy named Matt Emerzian. Emerzian talked about how he went through a metamorphosis at the height of his business success. He had collapsed into a panic attack one Sunday evening and, through a few different turns, that panic attack led to therapy-through-charity.

A prescription for volunteering and responsibility.

Matt gave up a frivilous lifestyle in search of a life of purpose, purpose through social change.

Emerzian came up with a concept called Every Monday Matters and, rather than paraphrase what it is, I’m going to lift a passage from an interview where he defined its bedrock:

At the core of Every Monday Matters is a burning desire to help everyone understand that they matter. I think that every single person on the face of the earth has questioned his or her purpose. Why am I here? Why does it matter? Am I significant? This is life’s greatest challenge, and our biggest question. People are powerful–much more powerful than they think they are and their actions matter.

Matt challenged the audience, each of us to not only share in social change and responsibility, but also with a specific task.

That task was to don a EMM bracelet when we exited and give it to someone.. in need.. in some way, to reinforce how important they were and let them know they could do something about their situation. A double pay-it-forward effect so to speak.

I am still wearing the bracelet today though I’ve completed the task.

I just can’t bare to offer it someone yet–selfish though that may be–because it reminds me to be personally and socially responsible, to act.

Pause on this thought.

This past Saturday, I took my two-year-old daughter to the park. If you have a toddler or been around them, you know that in a matter of days–and sometimes hours if they don’t get milk, their nap or something pink–their disposition to certain activities changes.

What was once fun, may become scary.

What was once scary, may now be boring.

If you’re a parent you’re constantly looking for signals from your child. And you better be on your game, because that child will balance their emotional response with the input they receive from you.

The park is such an interesting place–especially in as diverse a city as San Francisco–because it’s like a Star Trek convention for kids or something. They wander around the place, perplexed at various oddities and activities, keenly observing the social cues of the children–with parents who are young-old, black-white, no Dad-one Dad or two Dads–who are participating ahead of them or around them.

It’s a cacophony of activity and it can sometimes make kids skittish about how involved in an activity or area they want to be.

Inevitably in any park situation, one thing always happens.

One kid pushes another kid down.

The Big Slide at Dolores..

The Big Slide at Dolores..

That moment happened to my daughter this past weekend and the path of emotions, reassurances and actions is an interesting one to dissect.

My daughter was waiting in line for the big slide when Joey Too-Much-Sugar [name withheld and unknown] came motoring up the stairs, his father was in advance of him.

Joey barreled right into my daughter.

Yardsale.

My daughter let out some tears–not crying like she was hurt, more fright at being startled. She was already a little bit on edge because, I mean, it’s a really big slide.

Joey’s dad made a half-effort to encourage his son to apologize, but his son was soon too busy dreaming of the next pixie stick.

No sooner had my daughter and I dusted off her pink jacket–you would think that I should live in the Castro out here in San Francisco for all the pink that we have in the house–than Joey, who apparently is a massive slide fan, bulled into her again.

It’s an awkward situation for a parent. You know that the act was merely immaturity rearing it’s head–or was it?–and, as a parent, you don’t want to overreact.

The second time I was able to shade my daughter a tad and I asked Joey’s father to request his son be a bit more careful.

My daughter and I were about to drop down for our turn when Joey–sugar is a nasty, addictive drug–reached between us, attempting to physically squeeze by and get down the slide first.

And that was it.

I turned around with my arm out, shielding my daughter. I looked Joey in the eye, shifted my gaze quickly to his father and back to Joey and stated, “You need to consider others around you. It is my daughter’s turn. Please wait yours.”

It was a terse and clear warning and if someone had just walked up and witnessed this isolated episode they might have gasped at me and thought I was an ass….but here’s the thing:

I didn’t utter the commands so that Joey wouldn’t hurt my daughter again.

I made the comments so that my daughter knew it was not okay for this to happen to her the next time. This behavior was not something she had to merely accept.

I made the comments so that she could see her dad reinforce it at the most minimum of levels of social responsibility, awaiting a turn at the park.

And I made the comments so that Joey would take a cue as well since–to me–his father was either too apathetic or aloof after multiple opportunities to correct.

There’s something you learn early on in parenthood, especially being a father.

The only one looking out for your child is you.

The balance of that notion within the largest ecosystem possible is an amibiguous and constantly-evolving thing, always challenging and always important.

You matter.

And your child matters.

And this world has been taught and taught and taught that all races, creeds, colors and sexual persuasions are equal; that everyone matters.

A teacher of equality will be celebrated here in America in just a few days.

It doesn’t need more telling.

It needs continued reinforcement. It needs more people showing that they matter.

It needs more people telling other people that they matter.

More and more, balancing the climb to the moral high ground comes with an unintended, unavoidable and altogether unwanted derivative: An implicit or tacit soft acceptance of the transgression as seen by an onlooker. It can compromise the effect of that moral high ground.

On Thursday, in a friendly being played 15 miles north of Milan, Kevin Prince Boateng, in not-the-most elegant but certainly an emphatic way, paused, confronted overt actions of racism directed at him as he played, launched a ball in disgust and defiance towards those acts and then left the field refusing to play.

He reinforced something that people should already know.

All by recognizing and showing that he, Kevin-Prince Boateng, mattered.

And now maybe someone, somewhere else–in a worse situation, whether it’s Monday or not–may take action.

...



Supporting material:

- Kevin-Prince Boateng talks about Thursday’s brave stand

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by patrick on 2013/01/04 at 8:09 AM

    Great read. Thank you.

    Reply

  2. Well said.

    Reply

  3. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2013/01/04 at 10:33 AM

    Move to England – we are very good at queuing!

    On a serious note, great read. Will definitely take some time to read more about EMM.

    Reply

  4. Thank you. Has a father it gives me hope society to know there are others like myself who work to instill a sense of fair play and dignity extended to others. Bravo. Good on Ya Dad.

    Reply

  5. Posted by John Henry on 2013/01/05 at 11:22 AM

    Clarence Seedorf disagreed with Prince’s actions, which people were surprised at. I do not blame KP at all, but I wonder what Jackie Robinson would have done, which may be completely irrelevant. Just musing.

    Reply

    • At the beginning of his career, Jackie would’ve taken it and kept playing. Branch Rickey specifically told Robinson that he had to just let all of that roll off of him. But as Robinson became established and the color line was broken down, he started speaking up.

      Reply

  6. Posted by crow on 2013/01/06 at 11:17 PM

    Great article and congratulations on having it RT by AC Milan. I’m sure it would have resonated with me stronger if I was a parent.

    I’ve never like KPB at all. Couldn’t stand him as a player and of course after breaking the US’ hearts in the World Cup I liked him less, but I gained alot of respect for his actions. I think its crazy the people inferring he empowered the racist fans. I like the strong action he took.

    I hope sometime there is some coverage on the problems in the USA. I was talking with a friend of mine in the Bay Area I recently met who is from Senegal. Apparently, it sounded like the Senegal fans and even some of the black security workers at ATT Park had it worse (from Mexican fans) than the American fans did at the Rose Bowl Gold Cup final- which was appalling.

    I’m excited to go to Azteca in March as I’ve always wanted to go but I’m afraid the experience will leave me more disillusioned with Mexican fans.

    Reply

  7. Posted by SamT on 2013/01/07 at 8:49 AM

    Awesome, Matt. On the parenting side, someone once gave me two great tips very much in the “make them know they matter” vein:

    1. Make eye contact with your child when they walk in the room. Doesn’t take long to look up from whatever you’re doing, and it really reinforces that they matter as individual people.

    2. When you put them to bed, tell them, “I love you, and I think you’re the greatest.” Doesn’t have to be every night, but whenever you do it it will make an impression.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/01/07 at 9:52 AM

      Love the feedback Sam. I use “I love you and I’m proud of of you” twice a day.

      We also have New Year’s resolutions:
      – Be sweet
      – Learn a lot.

      Be well.

      Reply

  8. Thanks Matt, it was great meeting you briefly at the event and seeing you go up on stage. I love how you tied these three things together so beautifully.

    Reply

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