It’s time for a sports update!
OK, not really.
It’s really an essay on the fallibility of man.
No, that’s not it either.
It’s about the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time without having it explode.
Pete Rose is a former Major League baseball player, having played for the Reds and the Phillies, and having managed the Reds. He is the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053), singles (3,215), and outs (10,328). He is currently ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame because he is accused of betting on Reds games while he was their manager. (He admitted to betting for the Reds, but never against the Reds.)
Joe Paterno is the former head coach of the Penn State football team. He has the most wins of any college football coach. In addition, his football teams have had some of the best graduation rates in all of college football. He was fired in 2011 for his part in covering up the sex abuse scandal for which Jerry Sandusky was convicted and jailed. Paterno died in 2012.
Do you have a hard time wrapping your head around these contradictory descriptions of two of the most renowned sports figures in the 20th century? If so, you’re not alone. People’s reactions to both men cover a wide range: shock, surprise, minimizing of the bad in light of the good, all the way to denial of the bad deeds.
It is possible, heck, it’s realistic, for people to have good and bad qualities. In fact, as it had been pointed out to me, there are some Biblical figures who show good and bad qualities. Noah, the one righteous man God chose to survive the flood, was found drunk and naked by his family after the ark landed. King David sent the husband of Bathsheba, Uriah, to the front battle lines, where he was sure to be killed, so he could have Bathsheba.
There is a saying “Love the sinner, hate the sin” that can help make sense of the actions of people who do good and bad. Or, to paraphrase the words of a friend of mine, “He’s not an evil person. He’s a good person who occasionally does evil things.” It is important for all of us to understand that good actions and evil actions can come from the same people.
There is more to this than just making sense of people doing good and bad things. There is a more general problem with the way many people handle contradictory facts.
There is a psychological effect called cognitive dissonance, which is the discomfort felt when holding on to two contradictory ideas or being presented with a fact contrary to one’s own beliefs. To relieve the stress, people generally discount one or the other idea. This idea is summed up nicely in a cartoon. Two boys are outside a movie theater. One poster screams, “Scariest horror movie ever!” Another poster screams, “Lowest movie prices in town!” One of the boys says to the other, “It must not be very scary.”
We are so inundated with information that we need to simplify and categorize to keep track of it all, and when a piece of information doesn’t fit into one of our pre-defined categories, we tend to make it fit. Usually, we do this in a way that reinforces our current beliefs.
This kind of thinking is prevalent all over Facebook. Memes abound, and they oversimplify issues that are multi-faceted. This is why I decided to move my diatribes to this forum, where I have more space to be analytical and thoughtful than is permitted on Facebook. I might lose the immediate effect of responding to a statement that needs to be analyzed more in depth, but I have found out that it doesn’t seem to change the tenor of the discussions. Maybe discussions can be more in depth here.
I do hope more people read this, and take the time to reply and start discussions in this blog. Meme-free.