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.”

Watch this film clip: “The Honecker Joke”

Everyone should watch this scene from the academy award winning film The Lives of Others to feel chilling effect of political correctness and where it leads:  the imposition of social isolation and control of our lives and minds.

When friends must meet in secret: Hollywood’s “Friends of Abe”

Here’s something worth reading in The New York Times. The IRS has demanded website access that would expose the membership list of “Friends of Abe,” the only circle of folks in Hollywood who happen to lean right politically.  (The group applied for tax exempt status similar to that of the far-left People for the American Way, founded by Norman Lear.)    Among Friends of Abe who are “out” are John Voight and Kelsey Grammer.  Most of the 1500 members closet themselves to avoid the predictable career and social fallout from being exposed as independent thinkers in Hollywood.

The purpose of the investigation is to make sure it doesn’t have a — are you ready? — a political agenda (unlike all the rest of Hollywood, right?)  Executive director Jeremy Boreing has denied that it’s a political group, stating:  “It exists to create fellowship among like-minded individuals.”

I think this is pretty obviously true.  In Hollywood, there’s apparently no other place to go if you wish to think out loud without being cast into the outer darkness.  Friends of Abe is clearly a place to let one’s hair down and exchange thoughts and ideas.  Freely and without duress.   Kind of like what civil society is supposed to be.  But that’s what is really unacceptable to PC Forces.  The harassment of Friends of Abe is ultimately is an attack on its members’ fellowship.  It’s really an attack on friendship. On freedom of association. For the IRS to probe for an active “political agenda” seems more like cover for a different goal, which is to isolate and separate people.

How to avoid the spiral of silence? First, understand it.

Let’s take in this quote:

“The climate of opinion depends on who talks and who keeps quiet.”

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916-2010) wrote those words in her ground breaking book The Spiral of Silence, which was published 30 years ago. She was a German immigrant and an astute scholar of public opinion at the University of Chicago. Her words continue as follows:

“The hypothesis [of silence] came to me out of the student unrest at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies. I probably owe it to one particular student. I met her one day in the hall outside the lecture room and noticed that she was wearing a Christian Democratic button on her jacket.

“’I didn’t know you were a Christian Democratic supporter,’ I said to her. ‘I’m not,’ she said, ‘I just put the button on to see what it’s like.’

“I met her again at noon. She was not wearing the button, and I asked about the change. ‘It was too awful,’ she said. ‘I took it off.’”

Noelle-Neumann’s student was experiencing the pain of social ostracism. She likely felt she was a minority of one, even though the Christian Democrats in West Germany at the time were equal in numbers to the Social Democrats. Yet, she felt isolated. All alone. Why?

Noelle-Neumann goes on:

“. . . Those who were convinced the new Ostpolitik was right thought their beliefs eventually would be adopted by everyone. So these people expressed themselves openly, and self-confidently defended their views. Those who rejected the Ostpolitik felt themselves left out; they withdrew, and fell silent.

“This very restraint made the view that was receiving vocal support appear to be stronger than it really was and the other view weaker. Observations made in one context spread to another and encouraged people either to proclaim their views or to swallow them and keep quiet until, in a spiraling process, the one view dominated the public scene and the other disappeared from public awareness as its adherents became mute. This is the process that can be called a ‘spiral of silence.’”

If we hope to rebuild a civil society in which we are free to express our opinions and exchange ideas with others, we must first understand this feeling of isolation that causes us to be silent.

Let’s start noticing this spiral of silence when we see it in motion. And let’s not get sucked into this trap. Then let’s learn how to best push back against it.