Stop the Madness

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I have many role models, but two of them are of the negative type: people who have made mistakes I want to avoid. The first is James Nasmith, the inventor of the game of basketball; the second is Thomas Jefferson.

The reason I don’t want to be like Nasmith is not because he invented basketball. B’ball is a wonderful sport. I don’t want to be like Nasmith because he exemplifies something I want to avoid. The tendency to become oblivious to madness.

The story goes that Nasmith invented basketball to keep the kids at his Springfield, Massachusetts YMCA busy on rainy days. He had them passing, dribbling, and shooting soccer balls into peach baskets he nailed to the gym walls. Every time someone scored, they had to take a step ladder, climb up, and retrieve the ball before they could resume play.

It took fifteen years before it occurred to anyone to cut a hole in the bottom of the blessed peach baskets. Fifteen years of the madness of setting up a step ladder and climbing the thing before they could go on. That’s the thing I want to avoid about Nasmith and all in kids at the Springfield Y. They couldn’t see what was so bloody obvious.

I’m always asking myself, what are my peach baskets? What are yours? If I see them, you can count on me to point them out if you’ll listen. If you see mine, please do the same.

Probably the first person who recognized the insanity of the step ladders, was someone who felt he couldn’t say anything. He thought they must have had a reason to climb up those things, it must have been part of the game. The second one figured if he spoke up no one would listen. The third one didn’t want to make waves. The fourth one, did speak; but no one heard him. The fifth one, who also spoke up, called the players idiots, which they were for not cutting the bottom out of the baskets. He earned himself a punch in the nose. They still didn’t cut the bottoms out because they didn’t want to give the guy who called them idiots the satisfaction. I suspect it took six or seven or eight people speaking up before anyone took them seriously.

It’s likely they had a couple of guys whose job is was to climb the stepladders and retrieve the ball. They wouldn’t be too keen on cutting the bottoms out of the peach baskets and losing their jobs. They came up with reasons it couldn’t be done. A group of traditionalists resisted the change. It wouldn’t be right to mess with the game. Someone may have warned of injuries occurring in rebounds. But mostly, everyone must have been embarrassed, red faced that they hadn’t seen the obvious and thought of it first.

So, what about it? What are the insane things that other people have said you do, that you refuse to take seriously?

This brings me to my second negative role model, Thomas Jefferson. Yes, that’s right, the author of the Declaration of Independence, the Third President of the United States, the purchaser of Louisiana, the inventor of a copying machine, the dumbwaiter, a macaroni maker, and the swivel chair. Why don’t I want to be like him? Because he knew owning slaves was wrong, but he couldn’t bring himself to release them.

Jefferson belongs to that category of people who know they must change; but feel they’re powerless to do it. Addicts come to mind here. Often, they have good reasons for resisting change. Jefferson had his, but change happens regardless. Slavery had to end to fulfill everything Jefferson set in motion; and addiction runs its course to either recovery or jail, institutions, and death. It is far better to make friends with change and let it reform you, not deform you.

We shouldn’t be too hard on Jefferson, though. I can’t help but imagine what people two hundred years from now will say about us. I have no doubt they will think us crazy, deluded fools. Why? Some of the reasons will be the obvious things we can’t see, our peach baskets. Others will be the things we do see and lack the courage to change.

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