It’s a hard truth to uncover when you realize that people actually insist on bad news, and that, even when you try to throw yourself a life raft, they’d much rather watch you drown. After all, being in the business of bad news, that sort of outcome serves their purpose.
When I was young I moved around a lot; well not me, but rather my mother did—I just went along for the ride. There was a period of my life, during my elementary school years, where I had attended three different schools within a 3 or 4 year period. It sucked, but my mother finally got a clue after I graduated the fifth grade and opted to move us near grandma and grandpa, entering the middle school system there at the beginning of 6th grade. It was a good idea because, although nearly every child attending the 6th grade had come from one of the two elementary schools in town, this middle school was entirely new to everyone for the most part.
During the summer before starting the 6th grade at my new school, I was forced to visit my second cousins who also lived in town. Being all boys, we usually got along well, though truthfully we weren’t very close at all. Mostly what I knew of them were fragments of early childhood memories and a vague sense that they had some money and respect in the community. Because all three of the boys were much older than me, I tended to click best with the youngest of them, and had entered his room on a late afternoon towards the end of the summer. He dragged me to his closet where he revealed an unkempt stash of looseleaf notebooks.
“You see these?”, he said half expecting that I might be blind, “all of these are just from 6th grade alone.” He loaded a huge stack of mixed papers and notebooks onto his arms and dumped it at our feet.
I had never really taken notes in my life, so the prospect of writing a looseleaf novel while in class was a bit unnerving to say the least; but, I lied anyway.
“Do you know how to take notes”? because you have to in 6th grade,” he said.
“Yea, I can take notes. I mean it’s not really full sentences right? Just a few words for your memory.” I spoke with an assertion that wrote a check of confidence that my account had no way of funding. He was older and much cooler than I was, and so I wanted to impress him, but mostly, I think I meant to reassure myself that I could be just as good as other kids.
My answer displeased him, perhaps making light of what he thought made him seem accomplished. He had to set me straight; and, he did just that. His brows arched high up and he cracked a cocky smile that made me feel small and stupid.
“Look at allllll of these notes for just one class,” he released a bulk of pages from under his thumb so that they fanned away and down like an animation booklet. He was dead set on being a messenger of bad news.
“It’s not really that much…” I said defiantly.
“And you have to write fast because the teachers will erase stuff from the board,” he shot back, “so you might have to copy from a friend later.”
Friends? Who was he kidding? I didn’t have any friends.
When I grew up and went to high school I joined the soccer team. During the summer before the season started, the team would meet together to begin practice sessions a few weeks before school started. Initial practice sessions were run by the team captains and involved light scrimmaging with mixed teams of rookies and veterans. Then, after about a week after training began, the coach would finally show up and we would begin talking about a “double sessions” schedule. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, double session refers to a practice regiment that has teams practice twice a day: once in the morning, and once in the evening. There was about a 3 or 4 hour break between each session—enough for a quick shower, some lunch, and maybe a nap before having to return to the field.
Yet, even before double sessions had started, the veterans were already plaguing the ears of
rookies about how they wouldn’t survive them. They’d sit around and talk about previous years filled with mud and rain, and stories of endless drills with few breaks. There was even mentioning of some nameless freshmen that had quit in previous years due to the demand of the double session training. Needless to say, it was enough to discourage any newcomer—especially one like me, who hadn’t played on a soccer team since he was 8 years old.
In the time that would lead up to the double session training, no matter how hard you’d insist that you could handle it, the veterans shook their heads with such a somber exhibition of doubt that even Jesus might have rubbed his neck saying, “Yea…I dunno man…”
“Dude, there are no breaks. I think we got one water break last year, right guys?…”
“Yea, you never stop running. It’s just forever.
“Yea, and you get rashes and blisters and shit. It’s just fuckin’ terrible.
“You play no matter what,too. It doesn’t matter what the weather’s like.”
“Last year there was a friggin’ hurricane and shit and we were still here. It sucked.”
“…Remember when that kid cried 2 years ago and his mom threatened to sue the school?”
“No…No, do you remember when that freshman Jason Thomm…Thommerhammer or whatever his name was, almost died because of the sprint drills?”
“Yea but that kid had asthma dude. If he had brought his inhaler they wouldn’t have had to call the ambulance…”
“…True, but still man. Everyone thought he was gonna die. That kid was funny though. He was a funny ass kid…”
When double session days finally arrive they were tough. But, nowhere near the impossible feat the veteran guys talked about. The thing about it was that you weren’t even allowed to show confidence; the second you tried to claim that you could handle it, you were shot down like chimp trying to fly an F-15.
“Dude, don’t even talk. You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re going to get destroyed.”
Even at the tender age of 16, I understood that it was socially normal for the older guys to give us a hard-time. Yet, with that in mind, one would also imagine that this kind of preference for being “the bad news messenger” would dissipate with age and experience; it really doesn’t.
After growing up and finding an impulse for adventure, I moved to Japan to pursue a new perspective on life, new challenges, and a very lucrative paycheck in a nice city. As time passed and I accumulated a handsome sum for myself, it was my desire to do some traveling with my girlfriend and see places outside of my city. Serendipitously, my desire to travel had also coincided with plans for one of my best friends to visit from America. So, when he confirmed his visit to Japan, my girlfriend and I decided that we should all visit Kyoto together.
Being one of the most well-known cities for the experience of traditional Japanese culture and history, Kyoto is also known for being deathly hot in the summer. Some of the people I had spoken to had compared it to the infamous Death Valley in California, where temperatures have been known to reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
The truth of the matter is that the city of Kyoto sits inside of a deep valley that is surrounded by mountains. Effectively, these geographical arrangements creates a situation where heat becomes trapped inside the valley, and the mountains block wind from passing through. This means that the air in Kyoto is dead still in the summertime. Dead air and 90% humidity sound like a scary combination, and yet, people have lived there forever and obviously enjoy it.
While counting down the days to the arrival of my friend and our subsequent trip to Kyoto, I was plagued daily by the same warnings from both Japanese people and foreigners: Kyoto in August is terrible. They warned me of the heat, the still air, and had concluded before my very eyes that I was indeed making a mistake and should have opted to go during the fall—when prices are sky high. The bombardment of bad news got to be so bad that I pretty much refused to talk about it anymore, with anyone.
Additionally, people had also generally commented on the vastness of Kyoto; they insisted that walking or biking was not possible, and that, if one wanted to really enjoy the sites reasonably, they would have to take subways and buses only. This made me semi-nervous as my Japanese language skills were not that great, and while my girlfriend was fluent in Japanese, figuring out the bus and subway systems would take time and we only had 2 days to spend there. Luckily, everything turned out amazing.
Kyoto was indeed “hot”. But, it wasn’t any hotter than where I was living as far as I could tell, and there was a gentle breeze throughout the city. Also, we rented bikes for the cost of about 5 dollars a day and rode them to each and every temple and shrine we visited. The bikes were x100 faster and cheaper than waiting for public transportation and the city was not “too big to bike”. In fact, biking allowed us to see more of the city and local culture rather than spending down time on a bus or train and waiting for the next stop. If asked, I would tell you that biking was one of the smartest and most fun ways to get around the city: we got tons of exercise, we got to feel a nice breeze, we avoided the dense crowds of public transportation; and most of all, by using our own maps and planning our own routes, we had the freedom to change sites and plans on a whim. It was amazing. The trip was a huge success and we all had a great time there.
Of course there are certainly situations that warrant a reasonable degree of warning. However, it isn’t quite clear exactly why there are some people that insist on bad news, and will quash any trace of confidence one might show to combat it. Why must people strive fervently to be the bearer of bad news? Why do some insist on playing that role? It’s completely possible to responsibly warn someone of difficulties ahead, yet still encourage their efforts and confidence to traverse such obstacles. For those messengers who believe that cynicism is realism, I’d advise them to start wearing an armored vest when they come to see me; in their case, I say kill the messenger.