Joey McIntyre’s Boilerplate Encouragements

You know the song “Stay the Same” by Joey McIntyre?

I hate it. Hate, hate, hate.

I get that it’s supposed to be uplifting and inspiring, but for me, it smacks of lazy, unexamined, unicorns-and-rainbows positivity. The title suggests that staying the same is the way to go, but the whole song itself doesn’t build on that; in fact, it seems to totally contradict itself. The way the lyrics are written and put together sounds like someone just randomly took a bunch of Hallmark cards, cut them up, and pasted them together to make a rhyme.

The Chorus: A Dangerous Affirmation

Consider the first few lines: “Don’t you ever wish you were someone else; you were meant to be the way you are exactly.” Right there, it sounds like the generic encouragement that a friend who’s only half-interested in your problems would throw at you because he or she tuned out halfway and doesn’t want to bother understanding your issues.

If you’re meant to be the way you are exactly, what’s the point of changing? What’s the point in trying to do anything? Let’s just stay on our comfortable little plains and plateaus built on platitudes, and just take the opportunity to love ourselves. The world doesn’t expect any more, and it doesn’t owe us any less.

Then Joey warbles on: “Don’t you ever say you don’t like the way you are; when you learn to love yourself, you’re better off by far.” The first part, I can get behind because if you let your self-hate cripple you, then it’s all over. I get that. But what I can’t stomach is the sweeping statement that learning to love yourself is better, period. I mean, what if you’re a total jackass or loafer? Are you supposed to be okay with being a pest and a leech, just because you already “love yourself”?

That’s only the first step. You’ve got to love yourself to the point where you realize you can be awesome, you’re not at your best yet, and then work your way up and forward from there. You’re not meant to be the way you are exactly; you’re meant to become.

The chorus ends with “And I hope you’ll always stay the same, ’cause there’s nothin’ ’bout you I would change.” Either that’s a lie, or the singer just isn’t thinking very hard.

The Verse: It Gets Worse

The first (and only) verse starts with: “I think that you could be whatever you want to be.” Sounds promising. Sounds similar to “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”, the line which makes “Back to the Future” my all-time favorite sci-fi movie.

But then the verse goes on: “…if you just realize all the dreams you have inside.” Big problems with that writing. Like, where else would your dreams be but “inside”? Do you keep them outside, in a jar on top of the refrigerator, or in your back pocket where you might carelessly leave them on laundry day? Is your mind outside your body? And the whole statement, “you could be whatever you want to be if you just realize all the dreams you have” smacks of tautology. Of course you realize your dreams when you are whatever you want to be; why didn’t I think of that? Thanks a lot for giving the most helpful advice ever, late ’90s pop song!

And didn’t the song say earlier (at the very beginning, actually), that you shouldn’t wish you were someone else? So why say anything about becoming whatever you want to be? That’s what wishing you were someone else is. What do you want? I’m so confused!

The next lines (“Don’t be afraid if you’ve got something to say; just open up your heart and let it show you the way”) are pointless and just contradict the idea of “staying the same” for me. If you are honest and expressive, don’t censor yourself, and don’t keep yourself closed in, then you open yourself up to conversations, discussions, and ultimately, opportunities for growth and change; the fact that there’s a “way” that your heart shows you suggests that there’s a journey you must take, and you’re not meant to “stay” anywhere. So while Joey tells us to stay the same, he’s still flip-flopping and advising us to not be stagnant.

The Bridge: Taking Us Nowhere

Then there’s the bridge: “Believe in yourself; reach down inside; the Lord above will set you free.” It might be because of my agnostic, leaning towards atheistic tendencies, but for me, you either believe in yourself or believe in the Lord to set you free. Either work your own way through your own problems, or wait for a divine bailout. Any advice that gives both recommendations sounds like a speaker who’s hedging his motivational bets.

The rest of the bridge (“Believe in yourself; you will come alive. Have faith in what you do; you’ll make it through”) seems to hammer home the same point made earlier about getting through obstacles to get to a goal. But again, for me, it addresses a totally different problem from someone wanting to be different from who they are. It’s the last line in a long, meandering, falls-flat-on-its-face attempt at inspiring people to…

…I don’t know, really.

In Summary…

So basically, that’s why I hate the song “Stay the Same”, and there’s plenty about it I would change. You can still listen to it if you want, but I defy you not to cringe at the message, or lack thereof.

You know what? Just listen to “Man in the Mirror.” Whether you like Michael Jackson’s take or James Morrison’s, it’s a damn good song with a message written right.

Three Cases Where “Defying Your Limits” May Be a Super-Bad Idea

I’m a runner. Or at least, I’d like to think so. With the number of hours I’ve spent just running on my own, plus the number of running events I’ve joint, I’m pretty sure I’ve earned the designation.

When you join a race or marathon, you generally get a race kit, which could contain any variety of running-related items. Among the stuff I’ve collected is a lanyard that says “defy your limits”. Now, this is great, motivating stuff for those with a sports mentality. With taglines such as “Impossible is Nothing” or “Just Do It”, sporting goods companies tap into the psyche of their target audience and earn their loyalty through an “I totally get you” kind of social proof. Whether this ends up as a prescription for on top of being a description of their audience’s attitude is anyone’s guess, I suppose.

As we are bombarded with images of successful athletes pushing themselves to an almost self-flagellating degree in order to be the best in their arena, it’s hard to see anything wrong with the “no limits” mindset. However, if one takes a second to think, one will realize that this is not always helpful.

Some Physical Limits Are Real and Unpushable

Let’s start with the obvious: the very reason they are called “limits” is that you could not or should not go past them. Consider what you have to invest when you train: you invest time, money, and energy. There are only 24 hours in a day, and the body needs a certain amount of that for rest and food intake. Obviously, you can’t train if you’re not properly refreshed and fueled up. So basically, “eat food” and “sleep” are some non-negotiables.

Also, you have to accept your own personal physical limits. A heavyset person will probably not have a good chance as a sprinter, just like how a skinny person will probably not do well in Highland games. Short people usually don’t have a good chance of making dunks in the NBA. Of course, you may talk about people who defy the odds and set physical records in spite of physical limitations. I’ve been guilty of seeing a news item about a disabled person running a marathon and telling myself “what’s your excuse?”, and some short basketball players would want to point out players like Spud Webb or Nate Robinson and expect themselves to do as well. However, I’d like to think my comparison is more reasonable: all I care about is that if a person with physical challenges can push himself, so should I. I don’t expect myself to set dunk records because of some exceptions to the rule about short people not dunking.

The problem is that people often don’t remember the basic principle of “ceteris paribus”, meaning “all other things being equal”. So while it might be fair to point out that other people have overcome physical limitations to set records, you shouldn’t expect yourself to do as well as they do because, let’s face it, they may just have won a genetic lottery to get where they are. Not accepting that could lead to serious consequences.

Some Limits Can Be Pushed at Your Risk/Expense

People often admire athletes for their ability to override their pain and their fear. In a stressful, high-pressure situation, we admire those people who, with odds stacked against them, channel the most ruthless, cold-blooded sense of competition they can muster and will themselves to perform beyond limits and pull off a victory. Heart, guts, nerves, backbone, stomach: all parts of the anatomy, all what we expect from a real competitor.

However, pain and fear are there as controls to keep you from acting like a suicidal maniac. In fact, the brain is wired to respond more to negative stimuli than positive stimuli. This is called negativity bias, and this is what allowed many of our loinclothed ancestors to avoid getting killed and make babies. Despite this evolutionary tendency, some people still deviate and develop a higher appetite for risks. They want the rush, the thrill, and the excitement, to the extent that they might get themselves hurt for not much good reason.

And this point is not all about fighting or contact sports. Consider our earlier point that people need rest and food, so you can’t do without it. If you’re a smart aleck, you’d probably ask “How little food and how little sleep can I do without? Maybe I can push it down to two hours’ sleep a day and just one meal to max my training time”. And to you I’d say “Have fun with that, you crazy anorexic insomniac gym junkie”. Like most people, you’d probably train yourself sick, injure yourself, or burn yourself out. You can push the limits, but the more they’re pushed, the more your choice becomes a dangerous tradeoff.

But again, there are exceptions. Consider Randy Couture, whose body basically says F.U. to lactic acid buildup, or crazy/lucky SOB Dean Karnazes, whose body has developed to the point that pounding out a marathon causes it no more stress than walking down a hall:

There are other examples of exceptions, and these should come not just with a “do not try this at home” disclaimer, but also possibly a “try body-swapping with these guys first” disclaimer.

Pushing Some Limits Doesn’t Make You Better

Imagine you’ve got a friend who’s simply insufferable when it comes to running. He talks everyone’s ear off about his training regimen, he always brags about his personal records, and he doesn’t let you forget that you’ve never, not once, gotten a better time than his in an official running event. Wouldn’t you want to shut him up? Wouldn’t you want to do anything possible to get yourself to the point that you can beat him and tell him to go suck an egg?

Not that you haven’t tried: you’ve trained yourself to the limit, you’ve tried different drills and workouts and routes, but you still can’t outdo him. And it’s eating you up.

Some elite athletes, those with an extreme “whatever it takes” mentality, will feel the exact same thing, only much, much worse. And they’ll resort to unethical means to perform better. They’ll do anything to get that edge, whether it’s through performance-enhancing steroids or some other non-training-related enhancement like blood doping:

Bottom line, they resort to dishonest tactics to push their limits. That’s not fair to the fans, that’s not fair to their competitors, and that’s not fair to the sport they’re a part of. And even discounting the moral angle, these methods can also cause significant harm to the user: the side effects of steroids are well-known, and there are also risks associated with blood doping.

So basically, like any type of advice or word of wisdom you encounter, take this with a pinch of salt. Feel free to defy your limits, sure, but consider carefully which hurdles to take on.

On Discipline and Satisfaction

The thing about discipline is that it’s got this connotation of being just this tedious, repetitive, mundane activity that only bores, bureaucrats, and the anally retentive will get any measure of satisfaction from. Discipline is about restraint. It’s about lines that you’re not supposed to cross, or color outside of, or deviate from. It’s about rules that will, supposedly, hinder you or another in some way or another. And that’s not cool, man. Like, totally not cool.

We NEED Structure

But what a lot of people don’t realize (or maybe, what everybody doesn’t realize most of the time) is that discipline is what builds the framework around which we build everything. It’s the trellis that vines grow around. It’s the highway systems and railroads and trails that you follow as you backpack through Europe. It’s the pentatonic scale that your voice bounces along on as you attempt to hit those runs on your awesome rendition of “And I Am Telling You” or “Let’s Get It On”.

So when someone says that discipline is not their thing, and they’ll have nothing to do with it because it hinders them as an artist, or otherwise interferes with whatever inexplicable energy-based, mood-dependent activity or creative endeavor that they are pouring their passions out into, it might be good to remind them that hardly anybody starts off being great or a genius. You don’t just pick up a guitar, then feel a magical connection based on its feeling “just right” in the crook of your arm, and suddenly come out with this great, tear-jerking cover of “Let It Go”, your fingers plucking the strings as if they were red-hot, the chords ringing out like bells in the silent space formed around you by a spontaneously generated, awestruck audience that whip out their smartphones, taking videos of your feat and uploading it onto YouTube, where it gets like 999 million hits, and then turns you into a star overnight (whether that’s the time it takes before you become a star or the duration of your stardom, it’s anyone’s guess, but if it were mine, I’d guess the latter), and you are happily crowned as the miraculously musical prodigy of your generation.

Pleasure without Pain? Dream On

You know what the more statistically likely scenario is? It’s that you won’t get it right the first time. Or the second time. Or the third. It’s going to be an ego-crushing, humiliating, why-the-hell-am-I-doing-this marathon that will never seem to end, during which time you will continually question the sanity of going back and doing it over. On that score, the complainers probably get it right; there’s very little satisfaction to be gotten during that grind, that place and time when no matter what you do, it hardly seems to get any better.

But that’s the thing about satisfaction: more often than not, it’s delayed. Gratification that comes without effort is a myth, I think. Or, more likely, when you find yourself gratified with hardly any effort on your part, it’s because of the effort of other people who are carrying your hedonistic, McHappiness-seeking butt.

Behind every superb meal is a team of chefs, sous chefs, sommeliers, and other professionals who spent years learning about every nuance of the food that you’re about to consume, and you’ll probably have no more intelligent comment on it than “This is pretty good”.

Every great movie that tugs at your heart and fires up your soul is the product of thousands of man-hours spent by talented and creative workers (whose talent and creativity are honed, not inborn), more than nine-tenths of which will never be seen on the silver screen, left as nothing more than cellulose acetate ribbons on the cutting room floor, or dormant MOV/AVI/MP4/name-your-format files on some no-name videographer’s hard disk drive, never to be found or even sought out.

Every “miracle” drug (I put “miracle” in quotes because drugs don’t just happen) comes from millions of dollars and hours’ worth of research, quality control, regulation, administrative cost, failed experiments, and sleepless, coffee-fueled nights in the laboratory spent by people in lab coats who spent decades of their lives learning what they know, and earning the right to learn more about things that you’ll never even wonder about.

My point, I guess, about discipline, is that it’s a necessary cost. There are no miracles. There is no sorcery. There’s only input, work, and output.

What’s Your Discipline? Go and Find Out

So whoever you are, whatever you’re doing right now, I suggest you go out and find that discipline that will give you the most satisfaction. Find that one thing that you won’t mind mindlessly pouring weeks, months, and years into. Find the grind that will sharpen you rather than wear you down. Recognize how much it will take from you, and be prepared to pay for it.

If you’ve already found your discipline, kudos to you; you’re better off than I am, and probably 99% of the world’s population.

And what if you haven’t found yours, and probably never will or can?

Well… condolences, and welcome to the club.

I Feel Cheated, but I’m Not Sure I Was

So yesterday, I read an article on Inquirer.net about former Philippine President Joseph Estrada defying age through stem cell therapy. The exact title is “Joseph Estrada defies age, shares how he did it: Stem cell therapy.” Having had a background in life science, I read the article, skipping to the section about the treatment. Here’s what it said:

At the prodding of friends, the 75-year-old Estrada flew to Frankfurt, Germany, last month to undergo fresh cell therapy (also known as stem cell treatment), an innovative albeit controversial procedure where fresh cells from donor animals are injected into the human body to treat diseases or reverse the aging process.

Fresh cell therapy operates under the principle of “like heals like.”

The fresh cells from a donor animal’s organ are infused into the human counterpart.

… Estrada said he received 14 shots of blood from unborn sheep in his buttocks during the visit.

I was confused. In all the time I learned about human stem cell treatments, I was aware of only two types: autologous and allogeneic stem cell transplants. Basically, one involves stem cells taken from the injured person himself, and the other involves stem cells derived from another person. Both procedures involve putting human stem cells in an injured or diseased human.

But here, we have an article referring to fresh cell therapy, where fetal cells from a sheep are taken and introduced into a human. It further states that “fresh cell therapy” is also known as “stem cell treatment.”

While I’m not familiar with developments in medical biotechnology that have happened since I graduated, I’m pretty sure that the term “stem cell treatment,” as discussed in the news, currently broadly refers to human-to-human transplants. To illustrate, a related article in the same issue of the online publication discusses “stem cell therapy” without referring to animal-to-human transplantation. If ever, I’m fairly certain such a process would be called “xenogeneic stem cell therapy,” which, if I remember my science nomenclature right, would correctly indicate the process of taking stem cells from a creature of another species.

To be fair, though, the term “stem cell treatment” itself specifies only the use of undifferentiated cells for treatment purposes; strictly speaking, if one reads that phrase alone, the question of where the stem cells that are used came from is left unanswered. But given that the context of discussions surrounding “stem cells” nowadays is centered around human-derived stem cells, could we say that there’s been a case of misleading writing here?

I can only speak from my experience: I read “stem cell therapy” in the headline, I expected to read about human stem cell treatment, and I instead read about sheep’s fetal cells being used. Personally, I feel cheated. I learned from the article, sure, but it wasn’t what I expected at all.

What do you think? Am I being a prick about it, or do I have a right to feel like it was unfair?

Ex Post Facto

I recently heard this term from an officemate of mine: “ex post facto.” I won’t go into the details of how he came to blurt out that word: I’ll just say that it was a heated discussion.

I looked it up and found out that it is a legal term. Basically, this is what occurs when a law is implemented, and any act that violates that law is punishable even if the act was committed before the law was passed.

Now, the concept is alien to me. It seems like any democracy built on fairness and justice should frown at and automatically throw out the notion of punishing people for acts that were not criminal at the time that they were committed. Seems almost like you’re saying, “you should have known we’d declare this illegal someday, so you shouldn’t have done it even before there was a law.”

Too cruel to believe, right?

Well, I could understand how some laws can be implemented “ex post facto” especially if they’re serious enough. I’m sure when it comes to any amendments to existing laws against murder, particularly amendments that would make the punishment more severe, there would not be much resistance if lawmakers wanted to add to the punishment. This begs the question, though: what if the person has already been sentenced? If a murderer was sentenced to 20 years in prison 15 years ago, which, let’s say, was the maximum sentence at the time, and then a law is passed increasing the maximum sentence to 30 years, is there any scenario in which adding another 10 years to that criminal’s sentence post-sentencing would be justifiable? What if the law is passed in the middle of a murder case, just before the judge sentences the defendant who is found guilty? Would the judge be allowed to use the new limit in sentencing?

What kinds of crimes would be fundamentally wrong enough to warrant “ex post facto” implementation of sanctions or punishment?

This doesn’t seem to be a good post. There are more questions than answers.