What games can teach

Byron Reeves makes a contrarian point in arguing that certain video games teach people how to embrace leadership roles:

People say it’s most important to be born a leader. You get nurtured, you get selected, you’ve probably showed leadership qualities early on in school, you’ve been involved in activities that developed something that naturally existed. In the games [researchers] felt that leadership was not so much an attribute of individuals who were doing the leading, but leadership was an attribute of the environments in which the people were acting.

When players are required to take on different roles in order for their team to win (i.e.-some are warriors, some are priests, etc.), they learn that success requires not only leadership, but also followership. This is just “teamwork” in a sense, but I think it’s more helpful to think about the distinctions between leadership and followership.

John Mayer isn’t great because we all want to be him (though a lot of us do want to be him), but because we recognize his immense talent and are willing to follow him in enjoying a beautiful experience.

We each have a role to play in every scenario. If video games can teach that, it’s a redeeming thing. Real life will always be better.

Taxes

Since it’s impossible to write about taxes in an interesting way, I’ll keep this as short as possible: I used the TurboTax iOS app on iPad the other week to do my taxes, and was able to get them filed within about an hour of starting.

As far as it goes, it was a good and painless experience and one that’d I’d recommend, especially with TurboTax having dropped its $30 state filing fee from last year. It was painless because I made a habit of storing key information (W2s, charitable gifts, etc.) in a folder over the course of the year. There’s not a rush to assemble dozens of documents at the end of the year.

I’ve only gotten good at this in the past year or two, but I’m happy to have this part of my life made routine.

No lazy lover

I’m standing outside of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Michael Novak’s funeral took place just hours ago in the Crypt Church, where I’d estimate some 400 or so came together to recognize death and to pray for a man they knew who has left the stage.

The funeral was also occasion to remember Fr. Richard Novak, Michael’s brother. I worked on a manuscript with Michael a few years ago, telling the story of Fr. Richard’s life through his letters. (We never found a publisher, but I hold out hope that the book will see life in some form in time.) Fr. Richard was killed in January 1964 in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) during sectarian conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims. Fr. Richard’s body was never recovered, but his chalice made it back to the states. That chalice was used during Michael’s funeral mass today.

In tribute to them both, I’m sharing some of Fr. Richard’s poetry:

I Am No Lazy Lover
Fr. Richard Novak, C.S.C.
1962

I am no lazy lover
With sweeping grandeurs
of small talk. Words, you discover,
are passing; love endures.

Proffered is no measured length
of the potential soul.
Rather, influence of strength,
corner-stone, cemented whole.

The senses know the form
and smile and eyes
of love, but the lover’s norm
is to pierce through this disguise

to spirit which is all things
does love intensify
to ripened being. Each day that sings
our love is more July.

Sand below and stars above
give instancy of me.
Mine is no lazy love;
come taste my love and see.

Actively crafting a life

I once heard a priest tell this joke during his homily:

Three men are talking after a long night of drinking (“philosophizing”) about how they want to be remembered when they die. The first man said, “As a good father and husband.” The second man, a teacher, said, “I hope my students remember me as a good teacher.” The third man said, “I hope when my friends and family surround me in my casket they say, “Look, he’s moving!” Cue laughter.

None of us want to die, yet we do. Living meaningful lives is our daily challenge.

A friend recently shared Michael Novak’s 1996 article commemorating the death of his brother, James. I found this description of his life so fascinating:

As an independent writer and international consultant, [he] cultivated an intellectual life and a life of adventure in the nineteenth-century British style. Indeed, among his papers is a brace of short stories on daily life in Asia, conceived as the observations of an American, Somerset Maugham.

In 1995, Jim accepted a dangerous assignment as consultant to the Koh-i-Noor Foundation for Afghanistan, which required extended travel in the regions controlled by feuding Afghan guerrilla armies. One of Afghanistan’s provincial governors appointed him an “honorary colonel” in the Afghan resistance army, guaranteeing his safe passage.

Michael Novak died last week. I’ll be at his funeral in Washington tomorrow. I might share a tribute to him at some point, but I’m not sure. In the meantime, I wanted to share his remembrance of his brother.

Both shared the sense of actively cultivating an intellectual life and life of adventure. Actively crafting a life is a great strategy for living one worth remembering.

Why are you silent?

Why are people silent? The two clearest reasons: you either are trying to listen rather than speak, or you’ve got nothing to say.

I grimace when hearing the most common broadsides leveled against social media and communications. “What could I say in 140 characters?” “Who wants to know what I had for lunch?” Et cetera.

Can you imagine if people had had such lack of imagination 150 years ago? We would have let the telegraph rot. We have the means today to draw ourselves closer and share more intimately than ever before in history, and suddenly many of us seem to be struck mute.

Witness. Speak. Share. If you refuse to speak using the media of our time, it’ll be assumed in the future that it was because you didn’t have anything to say. That you didn’t have much to witness to. That maybe there just wasn’t much going on there—much soulfulness, much vitality, much life. (That won’t be a fair perspective, but the future often marginalizes the past and so it’s worth thinking about how to defeat its stereotypes while we still have time.)

I think about everything that my grandparents left behind in heirlooms and artifacts and especially in writing, and how my heart aches for the same sort of things but from every generation of my family over the past 200+ years in this country. How I wish I could read even the slimmest diary entries from my frontier ancestors and what their lives were like. I know some things from newspaper records, church records, etc. These aren’t particularly intimate things, but they’re something.

We have the means to speak and to be heard more simply than ever before.

Figure out what’s worth saying, and say it.

 

Complaining about your strengths

“Hey, great to see you. Nice hat.”

“Oh, it’s not new. Pretty old actually. I really need to get a new one.”

A better response?

“Thank you.”

I had this exchange almost verbatim recently. A simple compliment, given earnestly. But not well received, and instead turned into mild self pity.

How often we do this to ourselves. Turning our strengths into a weakness, and in effect complaining about a strength.

We don’t always conceive of the thing as a strength, though. Others often do, because they’re not in our doubt-filled heads. They just see the nice hat, and want to give a compliment.

Even when a strength is only perceived (rather than real), better to just go with it:

“Hey, thanks.”

THON and its consequences

Penn State’s IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon is happening this weekend. It’s known for being the largest single student-run philanthropic event in America.

Since 1973 it’s raised more than $100MM for the Four Diamonds Fund, which provides aid for children and families fighting pediatric cancer. It’s a great Penn State tradition, it’s a great community effort, and it’s often a genuinely life-changing experience for its participants.

A few years ago I sat down at the Rathskeller with an alum for lunch. We didn’t meet to talk shop on THON, but the conversation eventually turned to Greek Life and fraternities, which have been incredible developers of community life and growth for most of Penn State’s history. This alumnus presented a provocative thought on how to look at the future of Penn State’s Greek Life. I wasn’t in a fraternity in college (he was), so I’m sharing this mainly to think out loud and without knowing how much weight is worth putting behind my friend’s thinking.

The basic idea was this: THON has come to epitomize Greek identity, and so over the course of each year THON consumes an enormous amount of human, financial, and communal capital. All capital that each fraternity or sorority is spending within the Penn State community. And all capital that—at other universities—ends up being spent on the efforts of each fraternity’s or sorority’s national chapter philanthropies and efforts.

What this means is that Greek national associations are less pleased with their Penn State chapters than their peers (even though many of them raise more for THON than other university chapters raise for anything else) and this resentment manifests itself in that the national associations are less likely to strengthen, support, and defend their Penn State affiliates when they need reform, mentoring, or other assistance.

Again, this alum was a part of Greek life as a student and remains committed to it today. I was not a part of Greek Life. I’m presenting this here simply in the spirit of asking, “Is this a plausible explanation for why Penn State Greek Life might be doing more good than ever and yet finding itself weaker and less secure than ever?”

An obvious example of a national Greek organization abandoning its local chapter was the destruction of Phi Delta Theta a few years ago.

In downtown State College there are some 50 historic, beautiful mansions built by fraternities over the past century and a half. And while it seems few fraternities have retained their gentlemanly character, there is the chance for real and tangible loss to Penn State and the community if these houses (and more importantly, the young people within) are left to the fate of bureaucracy and national leadership whose vision seems to involve, in its best instances, tepid disinterest in leaving them to their own fate.

If the framework laid out to me by my friend is basically correct, it means that new systems of support, mentoring, and development for Greek Life needs to come from within the Penn State community, or else we risk the slow collapse of a system once responsible making so much of Penn State so great.