A Yogi Berra Translation

“You can observe a lot by watching” is probably my favorite Yogi Berra quote.

Of course, you can read a list of Yogiisms  if you’re in the mood (and who isn’t?) and find your own favorite. But let’s first explore the meaning of “You can observe a lot by watching.” This is not pure tautology. What I believe Yogi meant — and what we all know in our gut – is that you can learn a lot by paying attention.  We need to pay attention (watch) if we want to absorb (observe) or learn anything. If we don’t connect the dots, then we don’t get the picture.

Some of us try hard to pay attention. We want to learn. We want to use what was once quaintly called “the imagination.” And we believe in Truth, real friendship, motherhood, brotherhood, and all that’s good. So we throw up our hands in despair when the rest of the world’s eyes glaze over in the vortex of all the shiny objects out there: tech toys and stuff, sex’n’stuff, power’n’stuff, “free stuff.” All that stuff acts like tractor beams pulling human minds into a thick fog. It diverts our attention from what we can learn about ourselves and the real world. The sorry state of public education, along with family breakdown and the excesses of pop culture have rendered so many incapable of paying enough attention to learn anything.

Am I losing you now?  If so, my problem isn’t so much with the facts as with how I’ve packaged them.  Yogi understood this sort of thing, even if he didn’t know it.

Yogi doesn’t tell you to pay attention so you’ll learn something, not in those words.  That’s being a nag.  Yogi’s a real friend.  And he knows about packaging.  So, instead, he just makes a friendly suggestion that makes you do a doubletake and laugh:  Just observe by watching!

When we pay attention we learn that being a scold doesn’t work. Shopworn arguments don’t work, no matter how true. You may believe in the United States Constitution, in reason, and in liberty and justice for all. But if you’re really watching people, you learn that you can’t win when you are competing with so many shiny objects. Today’s culture is saturated with glitter and glam. People can’t let go of it without fearing you’ve come to take that stuff away.

The trick is to make the good stuff look like another shiny object.  Be Tom Sawyer painting the fence.  Come from a whole new angle. Shed unexpected light. Be a friend who says the unexpected, with love. Or just be a happy go lucky truth-teller for those who identify with you and like you.  Sometimes you have to scramble your words to get attention. Sometimes you have to rearrange the furniture when nobody’s looking.

After all, as Yogi might remind us: ninety percent of the game is half mental.*

* Update:  This reference is often attributed to Yogi Berra, but I’ve since learned it is more accurately a quote from Kansas City outfielder Jim Wohlford.  The exact yogism is “Ninety percent of this game is mental.  The other half is physical.”

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