Getting Perspective: Being Cool, Sixth Graders, and Bizarre Gambling Movies

TRC is is Middle School now. I remember going through those years, and how . . . difficult they can be. So much uncertainty. So many people changing who they are (or wishing they could change). The thing is, I hear him talk about the “popular” kids and how they behave, and my mind sort of goes two directions at once. On one hand, I remember being in sixth grade, and I remember the same popular types, and how difficult it was to have to put up with them. I can definitely relate.

But at the same time, my adult brain kicks in and says THESE ARE SIXTH GRADERS. Who in the world actually cares about how “cool” they are? Why can’t we all just agree that none of them are cool, and that they should really spend their time being nice to each other and watching cartoons?

Then I watched a Korean movie that helped put this all in perspective. The plot is simple: a nerdy Go player is thrown into the world of illegal Go gambling by his brother and then framed for that same brother’s murder. He goes to prison for a long time. Long enough to use his Go playing skills to impress everyone and convince them to teach him martial arts. When he’s released from prison, he takes his martial arts and Go playing skills with him to get vengeance for his brother’s murder. (The movie’s The Divine Move, and it’s much, much gorier and violent than any Go movie you think you might have watched in the past.)

I had the same problem with the movie that I have when I hear about “cool” sixth graders. Go is not cool. Go will never be cool. Could never be cool. There is not a universe I could think of where that would be any different. It’s a board game. Why in the world would people bet tons of money on it and turn it into life or death.

But then it hit me. Think of all the “cool” poker movies we have in Hollywood. The bravado. The smooth music. The tension over those cards. Poker is cool. But why is it cool? It’s cool because we’re inside the system. We’ve downed the Koolaid and embraced the idea.

Outside the system, poker is just as uncool and strange as Go seems to me now. It’s as uncool as sixth graders.

The biggest question, then, is how to break out of that system voluntarily. I don’t know of a secret way to do it, other than to first become aware of the fact that the system exists. Once you can see that it’s all arbitrary, you can start to separate yourself from the need to continually buy into it. My experience is that once you’re out of that mindset, it becomes so much easier to be happy. To do what you want to do and act how you want to act, instead of how other people want you to think and act.

Of course, this goes beyond sixth grade and obscure board games. The more you know about something, the easier it becomes to fall into this trap. The things we spend time with, we begin to focus on more and more. They become more important to us. My wife looks at my Magic the Gathering gaming with a stoic patience: not really understanding why I enjoy it, but willing to put up with it because she loves me for some strange reason. I can talk with TRC about cool moves and sweet cards, and the two of us understand each other. Denisa couldn’t care less. She’s outside of the system.

My challenge to you today is to think over the things you spend time with, and see if you’re making any blunders because you’re trying to be cool in an area that really doesn’t matter. After all, we all left sixth grade behind us a long time ago.

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