Sunday, July 24, 2011

On Ignoring

"Just ignore them." When I was growing up, this was the standard advice for how to deal with bullies or hecklers. I was never sure it was good advice, though. It seemed to me that to ignore a bully was to invite a challenge: "What more do I need to say or do before this person will react to me?"

I thought about this while watching Milwaukee Brewers centerfielder Nyjer Morgan play in San Franscisco this weekend. Rather than describe what I saw, though, I'll turn things over to San Francisco Chronicle writer Bruce Jenkins:

Morgan was simply a disgrace in center field Friday night, at least by modern-day standards. The bleacher fans were riding him, as is their custom with most any opposing outfielder, and Morgan heard every word. He routinely engaged them with words and sweeping gestures, at least one of them carrying the hint of malice, and created a tempestuous atmosphere that easily could have led to alcohol-fueled retaliation.

Of course, being a Brewer fan I may be a bit biased, but I'd take issue with Jenkins' partisan tone. It would seem to me that the disgraceful individuals were those who make taunting the opposition "their custom," individuals who one suspects of having a likelihood to engage in "alcohol-fueled retaliation." But in any event, he does bring up an interesting point about "modern-day standards." According to conventional thought, the player in that situation should be the "professional." He should be used to being heckled, learn to ignore it, and carry on normally.

But what enables one to tune out taunting, heckling, or bullying? The obvious answer would seem to be that a high degree of self-confidence (self-esteem, even) would permit one to become selectively deaf. But the odd thing about the Nyjer Morgan situation is that the individual in question appears to be among the most supremely self-confident people walking this planet. I suppose it is possible that the insecure could potentially construct a facade of self-assurance, but I would have to think that in most cases it takes a measure of self-confidence to stand up to bullying or heckling, while the truly insecure would be more likely to cower away in shame.

But aside from self-confidence, what makes Nyjer Morgan (or his self-styled alter- ego "Tony Plush") such a favorite among Brewer fans is that he is constantly seeking to connect with them. On a Brewers off day he asked on Twitter what he should do with his spare time. A fan suggested that he fly a kite on the Milwaukee lakefront. A few hours later, Morgan posted a picture on Twitter of himself flying a kite on the Milwaukee lakefront (shown above). For me, a particularly interesting Nyjer Morgan epiphany came when FSN showed footage of Morgan playing for Pittsburgh a couple of years ago. Morgan was "miked up" during the game, and he was well aware of this fact, constantly dropping comments that he knew would resonate with a television audience. At one point he said hello to "the guys in the truck," suggesting that they be recognized for their efforts.

Particularly devoted sports fans know that the "guys in the truck" refer to the production crew, who literally are in a truck outside of the stadium, co-ordinating the camera cuts, replays, and graphics. They are truly indispensable to the success of a broadcast...but since they are behind the scenes I'd like to know how many athletes would ever think about them. Athletes obviously have a lot to think about on the field, and I'm sure they are not above thinking about what announcers might be saying about them, but to actually be thinking about the behind-the-scenes crew indicates to me a particularly high level of awareness about the functioning of the world around oneself.

We all know people who essentially don't think or comprehend anything that does not directly pertain to them. I've at times tried to engage in abstract conversation with such individuals, and it is often a bizarre experience. It can be as if they are literally deaf to what you are saying; other times they may acknowledge that you have said something, before turning a conversation back to more comfortable territory.

Nyjer Morgan appears to be the opposite of such a person. He appears to be hyper-aware and hyper-attuned to what is going on around him. Like anyone else who has an extreme personality characteristic, this can be both blessing and curse. It enables him to be magnetic and draw people to him, to enjoy life to a high degree... and to be completely unable to stoically stand still when drunken louts are shouting insults at him. So before we are so quick to tell people to "ignore" critics, opponents, bullies, or hecklers, maybe we should think instead about how to best encourage people to positively interact with the world around them. At worst, maybe victims can instruct their taunters to "go fly a kite." With any luck, they might actually do it.


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