A Ryan Howard follow-up: What is it like to walk in your shoes?

If we are going to get #outraged about something a guy says, let’s at least make sure we are getting #outraged about the right thing.

The exact exchange between Ryan Howard and a reporter after yesterday’s game:

Q: What has this past week been like for you?

A: Do you want to trade places? Do you want to see what it’s like? No, you don’t.

My first reaction was something along the lines of what you can read in the comments section here. Give me $500,000 for my week of troubles, and hell yeah I’ll take it.

But then Howard kept talking, and I kept thinking.

Howard said: “It's all about putting things in perspective.”

I thought: I agree with that.

Howard said: “There's a lot of outside stuff, a lot of outside people who have their own opinions and stuff like that.”

I thought: That seems to be an accurate representation of reality.

Howard said: “They can't walk in my shoes, so they don't know what it's like.”

I thought: I can’t argue with that statement. I have no idea what it’s like to be under that kind of magnifying glass. I don’t think I would enjoy it, but it is so far from my reality that I can’t really comprehend it. I can imagine myself making $25 million a year, and getting paid to work out and play baseball. But I can’t imagine myself dealing with the level of scrutiny faced by a guy who makes $25 million per year while struggling at his job.

Howard said: “I don't pretend to walk in (your shoes) to know what your life is like.”

I thought: That seems accurate as well. He doesn’t know what it feels like to be 32 years old and working in a struggling industry without much of a financial safety net, wondering where your next step will lead.

Howard said: “This is what happens, this is where we are. We get paid a lot of money to play here. We're in a magnifying glass.”

I thought: Again, accurate. The magnifying glass is why he makes a lot of money. He can walk away if it isn’t worth the money.

And I kept thinking, and I realized that what really fascinated me was that a guy who makes $25 million a year and seems to live a charmed life battles with the same moments of despair that all of us endure. And so I started to talk it through, and by the end of talking it through I had reached a point where I was no longer comparing Ryan Howard’s quality of life to my quality of life, but my quality of life to somebody else’s on the other end of the spectrum. Howard’s per capita household income is 403.75 times the median per capita household income in the United States, but the median per capita household income in the United States is five times the worldwide median per capita income, and 131.5 times the median per capita income in Liberia.

And while my income is much closer to the worldwide median than it is to Howard’s, at what point down the sliding scale do we regain the right to feel emotions about our existence, and to have other people empathize with them?

Howard’s point was that nobody can walk in anybody else’s shoes, so why even bother to put it into words? He doesn’t think anybody would like to feel the way he felt when he was banished to the bench, when he was asked questions about his struggles to perform, when he was confronted with headlines that suggested his employer was considering parting ways with him. But he also doesn’t think anybody can know how they’d feel unless they actually lived it. And so his solution is to build a mental buffer zone, and remind himself of all of the good things that come with the bad. And I thought, well, that’s a pretty good strategy for all of us to employ. In those moments when my stress-to-satisfaction ratio threatens to overwhelm me, I can always remind myself that I do not know what it is like to dodge rockets on my way to work, or sip water from a sewer, or make my home in a garbage dump.

And if I find myself reserving the right to vent frustration while denying it to people who have it better, I should think about how my venting might sound to people who have it worse. And If I'd rather not think about that, well, that's on me. 

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