Reality Check

In the 1987 movie The Untouchables, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness reaches a point where he realizes his pursuit of maintaining the “lawful” has been done without much respect for the law. As he tries to justify this to himself, he says, “I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld, and I am content that I have done right!” This rationalization comes after a long, fruitless pursuit of Al Capone.

A part of that sentence has been replayed in my mind a million times since. I simply stop to check and take a personal inventory. Inverting the idea, I “behold what I have become.” And I try to contrast this objectively with others around me. What measuring tools are available?

A Time-Consumer

One of the most prominent measures of a man, I find, is what he does productively in his spare time. I don’t have to look too far to find the number-one consumer (waster) of spare time--modern television. Over three-hundred channels are available to me, but I find Cavaliers basketball games, Andy Griffith reruns and Monday Night Football among my only favorites. I can get these programs without a hefty satellite bill, but the family has different wants/needs. My boys are hung up on the nature reality shows and … uh … (be strong here, Ronnie) the … Food Network.

I can understand some of the interest in these shows, but, folks, be honest. For example, someone has filmed a shark biting a man, and the show uses those 12 seconds 10 times in the hour then analyzes the heck out of those 12 seconds. An expert tells about sharks, and another one tells about bites, and then the bitten man describes how frightened he was, and the 12 seconds of film are shown again. And again. And again, in slow motion. Roll the credits.

The food shows are even worse. Fade into the concerned face of a teary chef saying to the camera, “I … I … just w-w-w-anted the cake to be special. I didn’t know it would melt.” (More tears.) Then there is the story of a special birthday cake and how the plans were ruined by a 90-degree summer sun. Now, cue a sun expert, a melting expert, the baker and the birthday girl. Roll the credits. Are you serious?

Let me readily admit that after a full day of work and then the after-work work, a soft chair, a bowl of popcorn and a great movie (I still call ‘em videos) are very welcome. But that dead stare of boredom, with shameless abandon, into a show like The 20 Worst Cooks in America, is just wrong.

Critical Masses

But I am leaving something out. Attached to these shows is what I call the “tsk, tsk” factor, that part intended to make viewers feel better about themselves than they do about the victims in the shows. This is what keeps people coming back.

“Look at that idiot; she can’t even boil an egg!”

“Look at that moron; of course, the snake bit him, he shouldn’t have picked it up!”

“Look at that loser; no wonder he lost his house and his job--he was cheating on his wife!”

See? Quietly, these impressions penetrate our thoughts, and we all become experts, quick to remind others that we are far more bright than those idiots in the shows. This seems to give us license to become critics.

As I behold what this nation has become, that’s what pops out more than any other--a nation of critics. Rush Limbaugh tells us all the things that our president has done and will do wrong. CNN informs us how ridiculous the Republicans are. Fox News rails about how insane the liberals are. And take that “worst cooks” show I mentioned earlier. My 12-year-old and my wife watched the entire “series,” and the only thing they learned was that people who were already bad at something were made to feel worse as superior cooks laid into them about their failures. “You call that gravy?” (Tears begin to well up in the eyes of Worst Cook #7.) Cut to a shot of the cook shaking his head, intimating, “It … it wasn’t even edible!” No kidding? Of course not--these are the worst cooks in America! Am I missing something here? That was just a setup to--once again--make us feel better about ourselves by capitalizing on the shame and ruination of another person.

Stop Zoning Out

Behold what we have become. Don’t take our cues from that box! Take the boy fishing. Take the spouse for coffee at the local bookstore. Build a model airplane, plant a garden, buy a bicycle and see the countryside, hike, talk, debate, think! Stop finding satisfaction by whaling on others just because the TV world has baited the hook, and that wriggling worm looks so delicious. Actor Bruce Willis, during his meteoric rise to fame, humbly noted that all he had suddenly gained could just as quickly be lost. He said he needed to have a full appreciation of ALL the things that made life good because at any moment they could change.

What have we learned? Simply, there is an innate need for love, fellowship, satisfying curiosity and growth. If we cloud that understanding with criticism, bravado, jealousy and the laziness that sets in when we allow ourselves to be told what is important, we aren’t worth the use of skin we comprise. Sure, a movie or ball game is an entertaining evening of television, but to sit day after day and watch the worst each of us has to offer and criticize our fellow man for not being bright enough to do better, how much better are we when all we’re doing is watching some guy screw up? At least the guy we’re laughing at is on a show; we’re just vegetating on a couch! Who should be laughing at whom?

When you take the time to behold what you’ve become, consider these lyrics from a song called “The Measure of a Man” by the group 4Him:

This world can analyze and size you up and throw you on the scales.

They can I.Q. you and run you through

Their rigorous details.

They can do their best to rate you,

And they'll place you on the charts,

And then back it up with scientific smarts.

But there's more to what you're worth

Than their human eyes can see.

You can doubt your worth

And search for who you are

And where you stand,

But God made you in His image

When He formed you in His hands.

And He looks at you with mercy

And He sees you through His love.

You're His child and that will always be enough.

For there's more to what you're worth

Than you could ever comprehend.

You can spend your life pursuing physical perfection.

There is so much more,

More than ever meets the eye.

For God looks through the surface

And He defines your worth by what is on the inside.

I say the measure of a man

Is not how tall you stand

How wealthy or intelligent you are,

Because I've found out the measure of a man.

God knows and understands,

For He looks inside

To the bottom of your heart,

And what's in the heart defines

The measure of a man

So, my friends, how do you stack up? What do you behold in the mirror?

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at