What is real?
In light of the Manti Te’o story, regardless of its final outcome, it is important to examine and reflect on what is real.
Are Facebook friendships real?
Are Twitter followers real?
The greatest threat to our rational discourse and to our relationships is the virtual nature of them. Think about how we interact with each other? Forget face to face. The old school phone call is quickly going the way of the telegraph.
Part of it is convenience. It is certainly easier to text, send an email, or like someone’s post.
But is it better?
Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman had a very good exchange on Grantland. In it Malcolm shares this exchange:
Yes. I think you are absolutely right. Manti Te’o is not a real person in our minds. He’s a movie character, and that’s why we so happily substituted the rules of sports stories for the rules of real life. Just take the simple fact that Te’o did not attend Kekua’s funeral, because — he says — she didn’t want him to miss a game. To me, that remains the reddest of all the red flags here.
In real life, the dying sometimes say things like that. But in real life, we ignore that kind of advance directive once the dying person is actually dead. The reason we go to the funeral of someone who said “I don’t want you to miss a game for my funeral” is that we are so moved by that kind of selflessness that going to the funeral becomes even more important. It’s only in the fake world of sports that the heroic move is to take that kind of statement at face value.
In the real world, if a man says to his team that his 6-year-old son is desperately ill back at home, the response of the team would be: “Then what the hell are you doing here? Go home!” Only in the alternate reality of football is the response: “Oh. In that case, we’re going to try extra hard and go out and beat Georgia Tech.” In that epic Courier-Sampras match, when Sampras breaks down in tears, Courier says to him: “You all right, Peter? We can do this tomorrow, you know.” Here we have part of the reason why Sampras was a better tennis player than Courier: Sampras is the kind of person who could block out the real world (the impending death of his coach) in the service of winning another tennis match. Courier couldn’t. He saw someone suffering and wanted to set tennis aside. But if Courier wasn’t the better player, for his decency he is certainly the better human being, isn’t he? And isn’t that the lesson of this whole sorry mess? We have a set of expectations about what makes an athlete great or what motivates a team that run contrary to the rules we want the rest of us to live by.
I believe it goes even beyond that of athletics, sports figures, movie stars, and political “heroes.” It seeps into our relationships.
Escapism is very real in our culture. We find it in the church when we choose to stay inside and preach to the choir instead of reaching out to our communities. We find it in our houses when we would rather have a meaningful conversation with our Facebook friends or live vicariously through reality TV than talk to our spouse and enjoy the life God has given us in our home.
Our culture participates in mass hero worship at every turn. And we are constantly disappointed.
One of my neighbors always says “be the change you want to see.” Too often, our culture is fixated in finding heroes who are the change they want to see and then are amazed when placing supreme confidence in fallible human beings ends in disappointment.
That is why the steroids era in baseball hurts so much. That is why people were so willing to give President Obama four more years, because, they didn’t want to admit their hero was a disappointment. That is why Manti Te-o’s actions are bizarre but they aren’t unique.
For us Christians, we understand that the only “hero” in our life should be God. Placing any human being up on a pedestal is risky business and inevitably ends badly. We, as a society, often talk about good role models. What does that even mean? The only role model worth having is one who shows you the way to grow and this needs to happen in the home. Sports figures. Not role models. Politicians? Admitting a politician is a role model (any politician) should get you locked up in the crazy bin. Even prominent church folk have disappointed us.
As a society we are so wrapped in fantasy that we have broken from reality too often. And we do so on every level.
So, instead of searching for a role model for your children. Be their role model.
Instead of the facade of Internet porn or romantic novels, embrace your spouse.
Understand that we all have fake things in our life that we so desperately try to believe are real. Herein lies the lesson that Manti Te’o is learning in public: