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Hudsonblick 19: Ur-Motive

pool
(Photo © 05moon)

Unregelmäßig genug um nicht zur Gewohnheit zu werden und verlässlich genug um sich darauf zu freuen landen Mails von Charles in meiner Inbox, der, wie wiederkehrende Leser/-innen wissen, vor einigen Monaten von NYC nach New Jersey gezogen ist und von dort seine Gedanken für Spreeblick bündelt.

In dieser Ausgabe lässt er sie jedoch eher schweifen. Ab. In die eigene Kindheit.

Ur-Motive

Recently, the New York Times reported on an odd statistical correlation seen between birth-month and soccer stardom. The author, a well-known statistician, proposed that this correlation is due to the extra encouragement that these players received as children because their birthdays were at the beginning of the range for their class year, making them physically more mature than other, younger children in the same class. In essence he argues that the encouragement and early success that these children enjoyed had trumped the natural ability of children born in the other months. I found this a little disconcerting

Is it really possible that our lives turn on arbitrary factors and episodes that we’re barely aware of? Is this proof of fate, in all its cruelty? It wasn’t long before I was trying to recollect my own early turning points. I’ve been drinking much less since moving to the suburbs, so now I can recollect events from my childhood. Five years ago that wouldn“™t have been possible.

One of the earliest turning points I can remember was when I was about twelve or thirteen: I had a clunky TI-99 (it had a keyboard AND game cartridges!), and one day my mom noticed me, off in my own little world, using a checkerboard to code bit-strings that spelled my name on the screen. She bragged about it at work and told me how impressed her co-workers were. I know, I know: moms always brag about their kids and tell them how special they are, but this time it made a difference for me. It made programming a part of my self-image before I knew what programming was.

Early success also fits in this statistical theory (as well as some behavioral theories). Unfortunately, it’s not always good behavior that is reinforced. Growing up, I was largely disliked in my neighborhood; mostly because I wasn’t inside the whole Irish parish system I think, but it didn’t help that I was a pretty weird kid, too. There was a lot of name-calling and rock throwing and that sort of thing almost as far back as I can remember. Though I mostly ignored it, at best I felt isolated and at worst persecuted. Then one day, I spontaneously began a campaign of sadistic violence, vandalism, and intimidation. It didn’t make me popular, of course, but that was OK. My brother later told me that by the time I was done he could’ve walked down the street in lingerie without hearing a word from anyone. Life was a little better after that. This episode began my love for The Deed. Am Anfang war die Tat.

Unfortunately, I also got to be a pain for my parents. When my dad wanted to take me to the pool instead of letting me visit my girlfriend I threw a tantrum and dug my heels in. He got me there anyway. Fine. I decided to demonstrate my bitterness by swimming unrelenting laps of angry protest. No pause, no waving, just lap after Olympic-length lap until I was allowed to leave. I would destroy myself with laps. That“™d show him. After about an hour of this he called for me to go and I clambered out of the pool ready for a bitter exchange about how unappreciative I was; but it never happened. He was beaming. He was proud of me. He couldn’t stop congratulating me for my vigorous, unflagging, self-destructive laps. Then, in spite of myself, I felt proud, too.

So now when I bike uphill until my lungs cringe in horror under my windpipe, or when I run until there are red rings around my vision, or when I drink until my legs go wobbly, that unqualified approval of psychotic behavior pushes me through.. Thanks, Dad!

Now back to drinking, before the low tide reveals more dormant, maudlin memories. I hope you have some of your own. Zum Wohl!

Links:
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6 Kommentare

  1. 01
    Jens

    Nice article. I can’t remember any of such turning points though. Every situation I remember that included appreciation or the exact opposite seems to have let me mostly unaffected. But that is probably not true. I just don’t realize it. Because on the other hand, I recall a fixation on performance in all kinds of fields in my childhood with success taken as „normal“. Maybe it’s because of that that I’m on my way to being a workaholic.

  2. 02
    Katharina

    Charles, I always enjoy reading your texts! Thank you!

    Some comments on the theory (I’m always surprised at the statistical correlations you can find if you look hard enough for them…)

    „In the European youth soccer leagues, the cutoff date is Dec. 31. So when a coach is assessing two players in the same age bracket, one who happened to have been born in January and the other in December, the player born in January is likely to be bigger, stronger, more mature.“

    While it may be true that the cutoff date is Dec. 31 for the youth soccer leagues, it used to be different for a long time in schools. When I went to school, the oldest children in one class were born in summer and autumn, the younger ones in winter and spring. I (being born in March) was always among the youngest in the class. So if you think that the „impact“ starts as early as school age (and probably long before a talented child enters a team/ soccer league), it makes the theory at least, to quote you, go wobbly! :-)

    Looking at Germany’s world cup squad also suggests the theory is wrong:
    Out of 22 players, exactly 11 were born before July!

    I do believe in the „do what you love“ motto. I always tried to do that and so far it’s working out just fine!

    Turning points? No, don’t remember any either. One thing was the logical consequence out of the last, even though it might have only become clear some time later.

  3. 03
    Charles

    Katharina, thanks for being an attentive reader!

    That does make the theory a little wobbly… maybe the effects are only seen in certain clubs for some reason (this paper refers to the UEFA).

    But hey, why let a little data get in the way of a good theory? ;-)

  4. 04
    Charles

    Jens, I know what you mean. I practically had a nervous breakdown in 5th grade over a report that I couldn’t finish on time.

    But now, writing for Spreeblick, things like „deadlines“ are in my past!

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