Gratiis – Latin word meaning “for thanks” and often contracted to “gratis,” meaning “without recompense, for nothing.” Roots for “gratitude,” “grace,” and “gracious.”
Pushing for positive change, for justice where it has long been compromised, for right where wrong has been accepted, for restraint where largesse seems generous, and for discipline where indulgence has been easier always causes discomfort. It feels rude to call people to account. It’s complaining. It’s almost unseemly in tone. It certainly doesn’t sound thankful. But in an imperfect world, it’s necessary. Improvement doesn’t automatically just happen.
In the movie Ford versus Ferrari, one of the antagonists, race car driver Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale) is quick and outspoken in criticizing whatever might be wrong. This is true whether it’s the car or Ford’s bureaucratic ways that has drawn his ire. He’s considered rude in his lack of conformity, but he knows his stuff. When he’s squeezed out, the Ford team loses. When he is included and drives, the Ford team wins.
There is nothing inherently wrong with pushing for improvement where something less than perfection prevails. Vocal perfectionists with demonstrated knowledge and expertise should be listened to and at least occasionally heeded, even if they seem rude and full of themselves. This is sometimes – often, in fact – what it takes just to be heard.
Consequently, whether it’s Black Lives Matter protesters, war protesters in the 1960s, pro-Trumpers gathering in Washington, D.C., or parents and taxpayers complaining about critical race theory at a school board meeting, voices should not be automatically shut down or ignored. However – and this is a big however – at least a couple of conditions apply.
First, it’s important that whoever is making demands, like the driver Ken Miles, actually know what they’re talking about. Second, and perhaps more importantly, whoever is demanding better must still show at least some measure of graciousness and the humility that comes with it. Both of these have been severely lacking of late, with the latter being especially absent in the nation’s discourse, whatever the issue. And nowhere is this made plainer than in the recent actions of Olympic hammer thrower, Gwen Berry.
By now, everybody knows about Berry’s disrespect for the flag and the nation’s anthem at the Olympic trials. She was similarly disrespectful when she won gold at the 2019 Pan American games. Clearly motivated in the same way NFL and NBA athletes have been motivated to kneel for the anthem, she not only faced away from the flag, but did not stand still and covered her head with what amounted to her own personal flag – a t-shirt emblazoned with “Activist Athlete.” Were this the Jim Crow South and the flag the Confederate Battle Flag while “Dixie” played, her behavior would be more understandable and even appropriate, but her lack of decorum displayed a profound lack of knowledge for where and when she lives.
First, she and others like Colin Kaepernick are simply wrong when they claim the entire nation’s police departments are systematically racist in enforcing the law. This idea has been comprehensively refuted by Heather MacDonald. What’s more, some of the harshest laws blamed for “systemic racism” and largely having to do with drug dealing, were passed in response to demands by black Americans, as recently recounted by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Second, not only does Ms. Berry not know what she is talking about, at least at some level, she might still be worth listening to and learning from were she to show some level of graciousness. Here she is, about to be sponsored by a great nation, one that people are literally dying to get into, to compete in her chosen sport at an international meet for a second time in her life, and she shows no gratitude whatsoever. An attitude of gratitude for living in a generous nation that affords athletes the opportunity to not only compete, but prosper, and that still rewards talent over class or inheritance would require some level of gracious behavior, minimally some respect for the flag during the anthem.
This is part of the problem with college kids protesting micro-aggressions and agitating for free college. They seem so busy looking for something that they can claim offends them that they ignore all the amenities and relatively care-free lifestyle they enjoy while in college. They have been taught that ingratitude is their stock-in-trade. Outrage and taking offense is their currency. Graciousness clearly would get in the way of their sense of self-righteous rage and their ability to spit in the eye of those they should be grateful to.
Near the end of Ford versus Ferrari, Ken Miles has driven perhaps the most brilliant race in the history of Les Mans and is far ahead of everyone else, including two other Ford cars in the second and third-place spots. He’s told that Ford wants the three front finishers to all cross the finish line at the same time. He doesn’t know it, but because of the rules and relative start positions, even if he crosses a nose ahead, he will be placed third. Though it goes against his nature, Miles slows up for his team mates. And at the end, when he doesn’t take first place, instead of throwing a fit, he calmly starts talking about how to make the cars better. He shows graciousness. He shows gratitude for the opportunity to show the world his skill. And despite the injustice of what had just occurred, he’s clearly happy, no doubt partly because he could and did put the level of injustice in proper perspective. Research shows that people with an attitude of gratitude are happier.
And this is how and why Gwen Berry is so very wrong. There is a time and a place for her to say what she thinks and to call for the improvement she believes is needed, however wrong and right she might be about the facts. But she is so wrong about the facts that her outrage is out of proportion, and she ignores the opportunity that has been afforded to her. On a platform where she represents not just herself but a nation, it is not the right time; it is not the right place. It is the right time to show some gratitude and class.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.