Black Friday

Thanksgiving. You stuff yourself full of turkey, take a quick nap, get up and go out with your family to eagerly wait in line to buy new stuff at steep discounts. You drive around the mall and see crowds of people roaming around, chattering, sometimes running. It’s cold. Dark. You don’t like being around all these people and you have a feeling you’re not the only one who feels that way; yet, somehow, for some reason, here you are. You figure that this one night of discomfort is worth sacrificing for the new TV you’re going to get. You’ve been waiting all year for this night and you won’t have an opportunity to get a brand new TV until next year.

Every year when Black Friday rolls around, I’m stuck between two feelings: as a consumer, I’m happy that I can buy things at discounted rates and finally give myself an excuse to get things that I’ve been putting off; as a human, I’m extremely sad as I hear about people lining up outsides stores and getting trampled when the rush begins.

I didn’t notice until recently that it’s never the affluent parts of the country where these rushes happen. Rather, it’s the areas where people are closer to poverty, where people literally can’t afford to make these kinds of purchases at any other time of the year.

I used to scoff at the idea that people would hurt others just to pick up a few material things. “What capitalism, what materialism. I am above that,” I would tell myself. But I’m only able to have this thought because I already have all the stuff I want. I’m able to live without more things because I don’t need more. But some of these people have so little that they’re getting their first chance to get something nice in a very long time, or it’s the only time in the year where they’re able to get gifts for all of their kids.

Sometimes I drive around the poorer parts of Tacoma and I wonder why there are so many nice cars there. I used to wonder what the owners of those cars are doing in Tacoma; they certainly don’t belong in a place where their cars obviously don’t fit, right?

Not so. One thing I learned recently is: people close to the poverty line also have nice things. They work incredibly hard to make ends meet and save up for many years before they can buy their dream car or toy or game console. It’s the one lighthouse in the dense fog that is their lives. It’s the one thing that brings them joy. They cherish it more than any of the other things they have because that’s the one thing they have.

So if you see someone (especially a child) with something nice and you know his family’s not doing well financially, don’t judge. Don’t scoff. Don’t approach and berate him for having one nice thing despite the rest of the family having nothing, because chances are, there’s a story behind that thing and you’ll never be able to hear it, and you’ll never have to experience it. If you associate a negative emotion with the thing, you’re also taking away the one thing that brings that person the most joy.

Instead, ask about it. Show him that you see its worth. Don’t let him think that you hate him for having it. He’s probably getting it from elsewhere.

Let him be happy with what he has.

Two Songs that Need to Die

As a patriotic American, I regularly hear two songs that I despise. My dislike for the two songs come from similar reasons. Allow me to explain:

1. “Happy Birthday”

The melody of this song is sung around the world hundreds of times a day, and I’m sure that everybody and their grandmothers know how to sing it. Have you ever wondered why it’s not used in movies or TV shows?

It’s because it’s been copyrighted by Warner Bros (or at least, it was until January 2017), and that is unapologetically American.

How many times have you had trouble singing it? If you’re like most people, the answer is: almost every time. If a girl starts the song, it’s uncomfortable for guys to sing, and vice versa. I’ve discovered that there’s only one key that’s comfortable for guys and girls (if you must know, it’s Eb, which means that the starting pitch is a Bb).

The most notably difficult part of the song is on the third “happy BIRthday,” in which you have to make a leap of an octave. Not only is that difficult to sing accurately, it’s also quite unbecoming.

I would very much like if we could adopt a new song to sing for people on their birthdays. Here’s one that I like:

2. “The Star Spangled Banner”

A national anthem is a song that “evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions, and struggles of its people.” (Wikipedia) If that’s true, then what good is a national anthem that can’t be sung by a majority of people?

Our beloved anthem suffers from many of the same problems as the aforementioned “Happy Birthday,” only to a much greater extent: it’s notably difficult to sing for the untrained musician; and the range of the melody is an octave and a half (two octaves, if you’re fancy).

On top of this, the lyrics are impossible to memorize and don’t work well with the melody. And it just SUCKS. It’s not fun or pleasant to listen to, and nobody can even sing it.

We should take notes from the Russian national anthem (which is probably my favorite one):

 

Below is a history and opinion piece of our anthem, expressed more coherently than my own thoughts here:

 

Do you agree? Disagree? Would you add any other songs to this list? Let me know!

ITT: Unpopular Opinions

I was having an internal debate about what to write this month, so I’ve decided on this. The other topics can remain unpublished for a few months, I think.

I’m no stranger to unpopular opinions (I think pop music and most movies are garbage) but there are a few opinions that I hesitate to voice because I think they might actually be detrimental to peoples’ views of me. However, I’m here to break down my well-maintained image and speak out because these opinions are important.

I’m also entirely sure that some people in my audience share my opinions and haven’t had the courage to voice them. To you, sir or madam: you are not alone.

  1. Forced political correctness is detrimental to cultural progress. I understand that people have different definitions of “political correctness” but here’s how I see it: political correctness demands that we use (or refrain from using) specific words for the purpose of possibly avoiding situations where people may get offended. But in the long run, it doesn’t have any benefit other than bringing us the satisfaction that we’ve possibly avoided offending someone who’s different from us.

    Language changes over time (duh), and the more we use insulting words, the more they lose their meaning. A great example of this is in the word, “lame.” Its original definition is still there, but with a much more toned-down connotation.
    I believe you should be allowed to say whatever you want, but you should still know that you might look like an idiot.

  2. I don’t agree with many of President Trump’s actions since he’s taken office, but two things he’s done that I very much appreciate:
    1. Trump has sparked political activity. Though some of it may be violent, the political activity in this country seems to have taken off since Trump took office. I have never seen so many political Facebook posts, Youtube videos about riots and rallies, or in-person openness about political beliefs.

      People are starting to care because they have an opinion on how people should or shouldn’t be treated, and I think it’s a step in the right direction; even though it may have caused suffering to an insurmountable number of people, many more people are hearing of these events and are forming opinions in their minds. I can only hope that citizens of the US continue to be active.

    2. Trump has attacked mainstream media outlets. I’m sure most of you remember when Trump called out the media for publishing so-called “fake news” — I think he actually holds some ground there. The interesting thing about news is that a majority of people get their information from them and don’t realize that the information can be curated. To beat a dead horse: a vast majority of Americans thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win the 2016 election, because that’s what most of the media were saying.

      Anyway, the other scary thing is that these corporations have enough power that they can get together and control what information gets out to the masses. They can also band together and attack individuals, which they can basically do at any time. They’ve been trying this with Trump: just think of how much you see per week and how much of it is really necessary.

      Yes, Trump’s got some stupid ideas and does stupid stuff. No, he’s probably not going to get re-elected. No, he’s not going to get impeached (unless he does something way out of line, which I honestly can’t see happening). So quit wasting our time with this sensationalist “news.” It’s not going to be any different for the next three years. Go report on something that is actually valuable to our time.

If you’ve got some differing opinion somewhere (I imagine that many people will disagree with my point #1), let me know and we can have a discussion.

Oh yeah, also: memes are a huge waste of time and don’t contribute anything worthwhile to society.

The Importance of being Honest

I heard a question recently in an advertisement for a Youtube Red show: “[as a human being,] Is it more important to be correct…. or to fit in?”

I scoffed at the notion that this question was even worthy of discussion. To me, the answer is obvious: it’s more important to fit in. People don’t care about whether you’re right. If everybody around you think that one fact is true and you know for a fact that it’s not, it doesn’t matter. In this situation, you’re wrong. In fact, if you point it out and try to prove your point, you often look rude or stubborn (or a politician).

I first came to this realization in 7th/8th grade orchestra: my teacher, Mr. Caldwell, posed this question: “if you’re playing in tune and everyone around you is playing out of tune, but everybody else is playing the same thing… who’s wrong in this situation?” Everybody had the same answer, and the answer seemed to be obvious then. It seems to be obvious now. So why is it so hard for people to realize that?

It could be that people are usually not used to being the odd one out, or that they’re not used to being wrong. It could be a combination of both. I usually find myself somewhere in the center; people ask me why I don’t keep up with shows or watch movies or listen to pop music, but I think the answer is simple: I don’t like them and I don’t find any desire to pretend to like them in order to fit in with the crowd. But what I’m quickly realizing now is that the relationships I have with people are more important than my personal taste, so it behooves me to pretend.

This led me down another path of thought: if I’m spending my entire life following popular trends and pretending to be an average person, then suddenly I’ve lost my identity. There’s nothing that distinguishes me from everybody else. I’ve effectively become a nobody, and nobody will even notice. No longer am I “that guy who doesn’t watch [show] or listen to pop music or follow sports.” I’m just another guy. I’ve faded into obscurity.

But… is that really so bad? A vast majority of people from history have faded into obscurity. We only remember a few handful in the past few millennia, but it can’t be that hard to leave behind a legacy nowadays. All you have to do is join an infinitesimal community and devote some time into it, like speedrunning video games or mentoring some homeless youth. Perhaps if you prefer not to leave behind a legacy and only want to impact the community around you, that takes even less effort: just get into a car accident during rush hour in a major city. You’re impacting thousands of people in a single day.

But all of these things are the opposite of fitting in.

So you must make a decision: which do you prioritize? Do you work hard to tell everybody the truth or do you feign ignorance to appease the masses?

Because I honestly believe that these two things are mutually exclusive.

Late-Night Grocery Store Trips

This post is going to be a little different. Instead of a thought experiment or internal thought like usual, I’m going to be telling a story. A story of something that happened to me ten minutes ago.

I had just gotten back from the gym with a friend (yes, I go to the gym now), finishing some weight lifting and some heated discussion of the atmosphere of eSports and other competitive video games. I suddenly got the urge to go to the grocery store and pick up some deli meat and pork rinds.

As I’m getting out of the car, I hear an “Excuse me!” and, against my better judgment, I turn to look at who said it. Approaching me (rather quickly, might I add), was a middle-aged woman who was saying something about not wanting to beg and having three kids with no food and no more food stamps to use. I was actually so shocked at the fact that I stopped and turned that I didn’t catch every word she said, but before she even finished speaking, I said, “sure. Why don’t you come inside?” and I waved her in with me.

After we got inside, I let her know that she could get anything she wanted, so she started with some fruit. After just a handful of things she came to me and asked for my permission to pick up more things, to which I said, “Absolutely. Get as much as you need. Just meet me up front when you’re done.” And she was off.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder if I was being scammed. But I figured, hey, I’ve had a pretty good week. I just got back from a church camp where I felt pretty uplifted. Also, today two of my friends paid for a game that I’ve been wanting, and on top of all THAT, I got a job offer today. So in the back of my mind, I was telling myself to pay it forward. Even if she was scamming me, what’s the harm? I’d lose some money and somebody would have food. There’s not much to lose here.

My second thought was: okay. I’m pretty sure she’s telling the truth about going through a hard time, and I’m more than willing to pay for her groceries. But what do I say to her? Should I tell her to tell her children that God exists and He loves them? Do I tell her to make the groceries last? I thought about this the entire time I was waiting for her at the cashier. But in the end, I couldn’t figure out what to say, and I ended up just not saying anything at all.

She gave me a hug outside and we parted ways. I made sure to take the receipt so she wouldn’t have to worry about how much the food cost. Judging by what she bought, I kinda figured that her fridge was completely empty. All the more reason for me to help her out. She pushed the shopping cart with her as she crossed the parking lot, walking alongside someone who was waiting outside. I saw her slow to a stop with her head down. I waved to them as I passed.

I live in a bubble. For a while, I didn’t think I did. But I literally went from a conversation about playing video games for a living … to being asked to help someone’s children survive. It was so easy for me to point out my friends who live in their respective bubbles, so far away from hardship. But I’m in one myself. Just because I live close to these people doesn’t mean I’m stricken with the same problems. I live in a bubble, and I am so blessed.

But you know what else I realized? There’s no need to bring religion into every conversation or good deed. If I had said something like, “Jesus loves you” after I paid for her groceries, it would have been so forced, and I doubt she would have taken it well. I definitely wouldn’t. Instead, it would have sounded like I was using this opportunity as a cheap way of converting her, and that’s not at all what I was trying to accomplish. At first I regretted keeping my mouth shut, but now that I’m thinking about it, I’m glad I did.

I’m so glad to have had this experience. I’m so glad to have been able to pay my blessings forward. I’m so glad to have been able to make this woman’s night, or week, or whatever. I’m just so glad for this evening, and everything that lead up to it. And I wonder what would have happened to her if I didn’t have that parking lot conversation about eSports, or if I wasn’t on this diet, or if any of those things prior to tonight… didn’t happen. Everything just seems to have fallen into place beautifully. For that… I’m glad.

These are the best pork rinds I’ve ever had.