Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Believing in Something - Or Anything, Really

By now, you have likely heard the Nike ad: Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. The meme-generating machine that is the internet has already provided loads of parodies, some of them humorous, some of them not so humorous. Rather than taking that route, I want to address the wisdom of the ad itself.

Believe In Something

Joss Whedon once offered a succinct paraphrase of a popular phrase: "Be yourself - unless you suck." In other words, saying "Be yourself!" to someone might at times be terrible advice. Same with "Express yourself!" or "Follow Your Arrow." One might say these things to encourage someone who is discouraged or shy, but not all expressions merit equal praise, and sometimes we shoot the arrow over our house, and hurt our brother.

I don't think "Believe in Something" is necessarily great advice. It can be; some things are worth believing in. But not everything is. One can believe in racial equality or white supremacy; one can believe men and women have equal value, worth and dignity or that one is superior; one can believe in God or no God or many gods; one can believe in creationism or evolution; one can believe the earth is a globe or flat; one can believe space aliens and Bigfoot live among us or that they are not real; one can believe that marriage is a cultural construct or a timeless institution; one can believe gender is fluid or not; one can believe the unborn is a human being or a blob of tissue; one can believe in global warming or cooling or believe it's not worth having an opinion.

Simply saying that believing in something is admirable is the same as saying that believing in anything is admirable - and surely none of us believe that, do we?

Even If It Means Sacrificing Everything

Okay, I guess you are going to have to define "everything" for me.

Kapernick is worth $20 million. He's doing fine, at least financially (note - he is very generous with his money). I associate "everything" with, well, everything. Ultimately, it would be one's life. If Nike had finished with, "even if it's hard," that would have made more sense. Taking a knee might have cost Kapernick his dream of playing in the NFL; his stance certainly incurred a lot of anger, and I'm sure it has taken an emotional toll. But....everything? Not even close. "Everything" doesn't mean "something." I saw one meme featuring the cake baker in Colorado as the background for the Nike slogan. It was clever, but that man's stand has not yet cost him everything.

I would think that "everything" means that in some sense - at minimum - you have taken a stand for which the cost was life-alterlingly overwhelming.  It might not mean you literally give your life, but the life you once knew is over. Think Pat Tillman or Mother Theresa. Or Richard Rescorla. Or protestors in Iran. Or Mazzi Dumato. Or Aaron Moore.  Or Mary Slessor.  Or Jim Elliot. It's any martyr throughout history, or anyone who has poured out their lives and their possessions until they have no more to give. This list could go on and on.

I applaud Kapernick's boldness, by the way. I think both his reasons for protesting and his carefully chosen approach for the way in which to protest are solid. But based on the context in which Nike has framed this ad campaign, we can believe in anything as long as we sacrifice something, and that counts.

That's what we generally do already, isn't it? Funny how a clever turn of a phrase can make something so mundane sound so amazing.

* * * * *
One of the more brutal and pointed memes I saw featured Nike's slogan, but replaced Kapernick with a picture of the leader of the Heaven's Gate cult, a cult that all committed suicide in order to go meet the Mother Ship - while wearing Nikes. 

Here's  a slogan I would love to see:  Stand For Truth/Goodness/Righteousness, No Matter What The Cost. 

Sloppy language makes for sloppy thoughts. I know you can make better ads, Nike.

Just do it.

Wait...that's...never mind.

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