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Paul Newman, Bill and Ted and Yoda Walk into a Bar…

– Topher Endress

“Be excellent to each other.” – Bill (and Abraham Lincoln), Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” – Paul Newman, Whenever he felt like it.

These quotes all have some common themes.  First, they are iconic.  Second, they posit harsh dichotomies about a particular way to live life.  I happen to think this second theme is not just important, but the entire reason that Phi Kappa Tau exists, so I would like to explore it in this post.  Since we all just celebrated Paul Newman’s birthday (or at least, you should have), I feel that it is appropriate to explore it within the context of Brother Newman’s life.

When I see these quotes, it is easy to immediately disagree with them.  Yoda and Paul’s especially.  After all, of course you can try.  It is commonly remarked that it takes 10000 hours of practice to become a master in a given skill and all of those hours are spent trying.  So how on Earth are we to take Yoda’s anti-feel good, proto-Ayn Rand koan?  And the quote on losers from Brother Newman – of course there are good losers and bad losers!  A good loser learns from their loss, they accept the defeat graciously and they don’t find cause to lose faith in themselves or hate their opponent.  So all these movie stars are just wrong, right?  Wrong.

I’m going to put something out there.  It may not be received well (or it may be, but frankly it is human nature to disagree with it and even I on some levels disagree with what I’m writing).  Here it is: There is no such thing as being a ‘pretty good guy.’  You are either a man of exemplary character, or you are not good enough.  That is a bold statement.  It destroys the concept of an ‘average.’  It can readily be taken in so many terrible directions that it should probably not be said.  But it must be.  Let’s look at Paul’s life to see what this looks like.

Paul Newman.  Brother in Phi.  Movie star.  One of the biggest names in American celebrity culture in all of history.  Race car driver.  Served in the Navy in the Battle of Okinawa.  Created a successful line of food products.  Plus, he looked like this:

Ok, I swooned when I first saw this too.

Your mothers just fainted.

This man was on top of the world for a good chunk of his life.  He was by all accounts successful in multiple areas of life, had the fame and fortune of Hollywood and was beloved by women everywhere for his conventional good looks.  But Brother Newman did not stop with being incredibly successful.  To be a man of exemplary character, Paul Newman realized that he had to go beyond what the world would deem “enough.”

Last year, over 50,000 children and families were impacted by a life-giving camp system aimed at allowing kids with serious illnesses the chance to reclaim the childhood that disease had tried to strip away.  SeriousFun (formerly Hole in  the Wall) was started by Paul Newman in 1988, though he did not need anything else to add to his resumé to be considered a legend by any standard.  According to the most reliable source I know (read: Wikipedia), he started it with the aim that no child should have to compromise their childhood because of a serious illness.  What do you see when you look to the history of SeriousFun?  You see philanthropy.  You see commitment.  You see character.  What you don’t see is a man who has decided that he is good enough to stop.

When you allow yourself to think about your role in the world with words like “merely,” “above average,” “decent” and/or “pretty good,” you allow an opportunity to significantly impact the people around you in a positive way slip away.  We should always be excellent to each other – from our family and our brothers to our schools and our communities.  And don’t think that just because Alex Winter (who didn’t quite reach the same level of fame as his counterpart, Keanu Reeves) said it, the deeper meaning of that statement is lessened at all.  We are called not be good to each other, not to be ok with each other, not to be decent to each other, but the be excellent.  I promise you there is a difference.  To be excellent to the people around you will drastically impact their lives.  Doing it halfway doesn’t cut it – you will not change lives by being the “pretty good.”  Brother Newman was excellent to children with serious illnesses, and their lives were changed forever by it.  Who can you be excellent to today, and how might it impact them?

Likewise, the actions you take should be done with a balls-to-the-wall, fierce passion that is befitting of a true Man of Character.  This means that the actions you take should be worthwhile in and of themselves – no one cares if you go all out to win Mario Kart.  But the old adage, anything worth doing is worth doing well, rings true in Yoda’s words.  To try is to attempt to do something.  You can try to do anything, but it doesn’t mean that you are really striving towards anything at all.  Trying is a way of hedging your bets, of preemptively guarding yourself for the loss you might take – and being guarded is a surefire way to sabotage yourself.  To do is to actually push towards the real goal; whether the world determines you to have failed or succeeded, you have either done or done not.  And while failure can hurt, it is the kind of hurt that tells you that your actions at least mattered.  Doing is never a failure because your actions had an impact on the world, whether you hit your stated goal or not.  True failure is not missing the mark, true failure is wasting your time by doing nothing.

Any religion that is worth its salt would ask its adherents to give themselves over fully to the beliefs and actions that come with it.  No minister, rabbi, iman, priest, monk, or any other religious leader would tell you that being “pretty good” is the way to be.  If you believe in something, you should dive in head first and be enveloped by it.  If you want to be a man, jump in and build up your character every single day.  Do not be content to merely exist – you have a presence that should be felt by the world around you.  Either you do it or you don’t.

So Yoda, Bill and Ted, and Paul Newman walk into a bar.  Then they treat the people around them excellently, in a manner that the world has almost forgotten, and then they go out and do great things with an unbridled passion that may or may not be successful, but could never be a true failure.

Dreams Come True

– Ben Leiter

This may seem like a childish thing to say, but it actually happened to me just recently.  Anyone, when they are a kid, always has dreams of becoming something great in their minds: a fireman, a policeman, the President.  My dream ever since starting to play the drum set in eighth grade was to be in a band.  I’m not talking your everyday school concert or marching band or just a volunteer group at a church, but in a genuine band.

My best friend at the time, being quite ambitious, said he would learn guitar, and would make one of his friends learn bass.  Needless to say, that never happened.  I was in high school marching and concert bands all throughout high school, played at my church on Sunday mornings, and found myself quite often just playing drums in my room to songs on my iPod.  I was beginning to think I was stuck in the musical world of an amateur drummer.

About two and a half years ago I met my friend Aaron Milbourn.  He is quite the character, and I was even more ecstatic to find out that he had his own band, Flight of the Fallen, with Tyler McCoskey.  Even before then, I had given up on my dream of being in a band, but I was still excited to meet someone who shared the same passions as me.

About a year ago now, Aaron asked me if I would play djembe for a song on his EP, Unshakeable.  Of course I said yes, and after recording the one song, I set up my drums because he just wanted to jam.  I was beside myself at this point and just had a blast.

Aaron and I really did not talk much until about a month ago because I was busy in school, and he was moving locations due to a job change, which he was now settling into.  However, he called me one night out of the blue, and said, “…me and Ty were talking, and we were wondering if you would want to record drums for our new album.”  His drummer had become busy beforehand and now attends Rose-Hulman, a little far of a drive.  My mouth moved; no words came out.  It was literally a dream come true

I think in this day and age people begin to think too realistically and lose hope for what they had dreamed of becoming.  Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  So feel free to dream of what you want to do in life.  There is hope that, one day, someone may just surprise you and your dreams will come true.  Oh, and did I mention that the name of the album I recorded for is ‘There Is Hope’?

Fatherhood

– Topher Endress

It’s probably no surprise to any of you that I want to have kids one day.  I did after all work with high school students throughout all of college, substitute taught middle school kids and even did childcare at my church every now and then.  I spent my summer working with seriously ill kids at camp (if you haven’t applied for a SeriousFun camp in some capacity by now, I am very disappointed).  Even now, I’m tutoring some first graders at a local elementary school.  Not that I’m getting baby crazy, but once you hit mid-20’s and realize that you are good friends with people who procreate, you start to think about what having kids brings to the table.  And thinking about kids makes you realize several things about the importance of framing.

When a little kid asks you a question, it is usually more than that.  Sure, they may want the answer, but they are also trying to figure out the context of their world.  It’s a commonly repeated statement that kids crave structure – I think this is in part because they don’t have the experience or knowledge to provide any real structure to their own worlds yet.  And so how we, as adults, talk to kids is vastly important.  As they grow, children will learn more and more from the adults around them – directly through education and indirectly through actions and paradigms.  Books are incredible, but until you can pick apart the author’s personality and underlying framework for yourself, there need to be people that will teach you to contextualize your world.

You’re right, this IS a lot of responsibility.  It’s why I don’t want to see kids conceived “accidentally.”    How can you look at something so awe-inspiringly significant and not find it necessary to be at least a tiny bit philosophically prepared?  Most couples I know did this.  They shared a worldview and discussed it with each other.  They talk about what kind of schools to put their kids in.  What kind of churches to raise them in.  What kind of stories to tell them, movies to watch with them, toys to buy them, people to interact with them.  But whether you ever consider exactly how to contextualize their world or what you hope that they learn, you as a parent will color their interpretation of what they see.  Since that is inevitable, I might as well start thinking about the truths of the world that I want my kids to know.

There are several parenting methods and philosophies out there.  I can’t tell you that any one of them isn’t valid for some children, especially not having kids of my own.  It certainly isn’t my place to tell anyone that they aren’t raising their kids the right way.  But, I do think that parenting should, for the most part, be a natural extension of the way the parents think about the world.  To do something other than that seems disingenuous (of course, you have to be adaptable and flexible – I’ve heard that from pretty much every parent I’ve ever met.  Making a few rules that are out of character doesn’t make you a hypocrite at all).  And so, based on my orientation of this world, I had* this thought about raising kids.

One day when my kids worry about the monsters under their beds, the strange things in their closets, the menace of shadows outside their window, I don’t want to be the father that teaches his children that there are no monsters. That nothing can hurt them. That they are safe. No, I want to be the father who teaches his children how to fight back. How to kill their monsters. How to champion their own safety. Because the monsters do exist. There are terrifying truths about our world that children have to learn.  It will be a temptation to protect them.  To keep them from ever finding out about the hurt and brokenness out there.  But it will inevitably find them, just as it found all of us.  Every man knows about the paralyzing fear that can come with discovering one’s own mortality, but every good father knows their child can always be stronger with the right training.  So when I’m called in to check the closet and under the bed for monsters that aren’t there, I’ll be suiting my kids up for battle.  Because one day, my kids will be called into war, to fight real monsters, to battle against bullies and cancer and asking girls out and racism and injustice and learning to drive, and I will know that they will be ready.  HOORAH!

*Much like Mick Jagger’s composition of ‘Satisfaction,’ I dreamed it first, then woke up to write it down.

Keep on keepin’ on

-Baby Bear

Men of Phi Tau, one of my favorite things about being a little religious has to be the comfort I get.  Some people may think this to be a crutch but I believe that if someone hands you a hammer and says “drive in that nail”, I’m probably going to use the hammer.  Whether it be exams or money issues, humans are social creatures, everyone has or needs a little support when things get stressful.  I urge you to find out who your support is whether it be friends, family, a God, or many gods and thank them for getting you through life when it gets to the point of lame times infinity.

I’d like to share with you men my what I personally do when things seem to overwhelm.  It’s a little prayer that I stole from a saint who said it a long time ago.  It’s short, sweet, and nice and I even abridged to where my small attention span can get through it and remember it.

Lord,

grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage

to change the things that I can,

and the wisdom

to know the difference.

That’s what gets me through the day.  I’d love if you readers could comment and say what gets you through exam week and the like.

Ann Coulter

– Topher Endress

Men, we have read posts on the importance of words, but I need to take some space to write about a very problematic issue that many of us (myself included) face. All to often, it is easy for us to call something by the wrong name. We willingly forsake accuracy for emphasis in many conversations – not always a bad thing, of course. However, sometimes this lack of consideration for our terms is very damaging to others.  Take, for example, Ann Coulter’s recent tweets about Obama.  During one of the presidential debates, she referred to him directly as a retard, then later said that if Obama was the smartest man in the room, it must be one retarded room.  Now, especially on election day, I’m not going to pick sides and say that she’s right and saying it wrong, or that she’s wrong and saying it really wrong.  I will, however, never mention Ann Coulter again in an effort to keep her off the airwaves.  Someone who is so blatantly disrespectful does not deserve our attention for it.  Of course, as I think about her word choice, I can’t help but think about what I hear from the people around me.

When was the last time you said someone was retarded?  Not too long ago, if you are anything like the general 20-somethings population that I’ve known.  See, our culture has taken this word and misapplied it because, as a descriptor, it adds emphasis to what we say.  I didn’t just make a mistake, I’ll apologize for being retarded.  That person isn’t just asking a question in class, they are retarded for not getting it right away.  The ref didn’t make a bad call, he is retarded for missing that obvious foul.  It is quite literally akin to using the word literally to describe feelings (when it is far more likely that you intend to say emphaticallylegitimately, or passionately).  We like being able to emphasize our words through these types of hyperboles.

However, let me point out two main reasons why misusing the word retarded will ensure a swift kick to the face from me next time I see you in person: retarded was never meant to describe a person and retarded is an emotionally charge word that places the power in the listener’s ear.

First, there is a proper use of the word.  Today, it is used to only to describe a system or process that is slowly down or being hindered.  In music, you have a retardando when the tempo slows.  We have machines that retard and baby clothes that are flame retardant.  While this could have described those with mental handicaps several years ago, I would hope that each person reading this blog would realize how inappropriate and  inaccurate that term is if used to describe a human.  I don’t mind anyone using that term properly, but it is never the correct usage to use it as a description of a person.

Second, the biggest reason that this word is offensive is because it is.  Simply put, because a critical mass of people have used it inappropriately as a pejorative term, anyone using it now is necessarily bringing in the negative connotations that come with it.  We don’t have those same negative emotions associated with other adjectives – I wouldn’t be offended if you called me “quixotic,” but if enough people started using “quixotic” as an insult I would eventually be offended by that term no matter how good of a descriptor it once was.  We are Men of Character.  Not knowing that something is offensive is an excuse that can be used once at most – we do have an obligation to understand how to best relate to and see the value in each person around us.  Part of that means educating yourself on how to interact in a way that is fair to both parties.  Of course, that is the general ideal.  The word retarded is well-known to be offensive, so I personally wouldn’t give anyone that one-time pass.

I understand that as guys, it is natural for many of us to rib each other.  Most insults and bickering are more parodies of masculinity than they are true expressions.  But there is no reason for a group of dedicated Men, Men who want to change the perception of fraternal life at Purdue, Men who want to cause an impact in their community, Men who strive to be a light in already too-dark world, should ever jeopardize their efficacy by using words that serve no purpose other than furthering a divide with an already maligned community.  Many people hearing the word retarded recognize that it stands for a label that dehumanizes someone with mental handicaps or disabilities.  And no Man of Character I know would ever stand for that.

How can you work on changing your vocabulary to exclude words that only serve to insult?  When do you find yourself using terms like that, and how can you change those situations?  What other words might you be using that offend those around you?

As a final read, I highly recommend this open letter, penned to Ann Coulter after her tweets.

Movember

– Topher Endress

So October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month – I know that involvement around Purdue was steadily increasing each of my years there, so I assume everyone was made aware and possibly donated some money to research.  Overall, I think the communities that I have been in have done a great job to not only raise lots of research funds, but have really changed the way that we talk about women’s health.  While breast cancer and heart disease are the two biggest factors for early deaths in women, it seems like it is no longer a strange and/or awkward conversation on the community platform.  Women seem to be more able to converse about mammograms, screenings, taking care of their bodies and helping men learn about the unique issues facing women today.  And this is a great thing that should absolutely continue.  However, October is over and November is here.  This means that basketball has finally started, plans for gorging oneself at Thanksgiving are being made, and National Men’s Health Awareness Month is here!

A group in Australia started a campaign to coincide with the college males’ favorite season – No Shave November.  Now, our laziness and unwillingness to buy a razor can finally pay off!  Dubbed “Movember” (as “moe” is slang down under for moustache (yes, I’m using the formal English spelling)), the campaign has raised almost $22 million so far this month to be donated to Prostate Cancer initiatives and other men’s health organizations (they have raised about $300 million since 2004, with their donations increasing almost exponentially since then).  So, yes, I am growing a moustache in support of men’s health awareness.  Additionally, I am embarking on a campaign (with help from a nurse) to create some dialogue about how to bring health issues before communities.  I think this is very important, because the main issue with men’s health is not a singular issue (nor is it for women, but the prevalence of breast cancer makes it one of the biggest single targets for research).  While 1 in 6 men can expect to get prostate cancer in their lifetimes, the biggest issue facing us XYs is that too many men refuse to seek medical attention until very treatable problems have become major issues.  Prostate cancer is almost never as aggressive as other cancers, but when left unchecked it can cause serious issues.  Realistically, many of the top causes of death for men could be prevented with a higher willingness to access medical treatment.  Part of that is economic, which is it’s own issue, but part of it is simply men being hard-headed.  I am asking each of you to remember the power of preventative care and early detection.

Now, I am creating this campaign within my school because I believe that my classmates and I have a voice.  Being in Divinity school, I will likely have the opportunity to stand before a congregation, and I would love to know how to best address issues like these.  And while my current position and community are different than yours, I think we can all learn from this years Movember.  At the end of the month, I will be hosting a Moustache Bash, where all of my classmates are provided with and encouraged to wear a fake moustache all day to help show to others the importance of understanding the issues.  I will be posting all of the notes from our discussions here so that you all can begin to think of effective ways to use your times, talent and positions to help men better understand health issues.  This is one great way we can be discharging our obligation to others that arises from the fact that we are fraternity men.

*I don’t have an account to donate to, but you should send your money to my buddy Anthony (http://us.movember.com/mospace/3657205) and for more information on Movember, please check out their site here.