There is a chance that I might have become slightly obsessed with documentaries. I blame Netflix, really, for having a nice wide array of movies available for instant streaming; and I blame my friend, Michelle, who told me about the movie, Jig, which I watched and then decided I needed to watch every single other film I could find about people striving for greatness. What can I say? I like watching people go after their dreams. Call it a weakness.
But as I’ve watched these stories and read stories online and generally buried myself up to the eyeballs in Inspiring Tales of the Human Quest for Magnificence, I keep running across the word “sacrifice”. And y’know what? I’m sick of it.
Here’s the thing: maybe I’ve got a melodramatic understanding of the word, but to me, “sacrifice” should be reserved for surrendering something big. Something important. Think “Abraham and Isaac” here. Think “taking a bullet for your spouse”.
Most of the time, though, when folks in these documentaries talk about “sacrifices” they’re making, what they’re actually talking about is simply making choices. They have a finite number of hours in the day, and they are choosing how to spend those hours–perhaps they are passionate about dancing and choose to attend class instead of going to a slumber party–or they’ve got a finite amount of money and their passion for cooking leads them to choose to spend that money on culinary school instead of a vacation. Their desire to be The Best drives them to choose pursuing their dreams over attending the prom. Their quest for greatness makes them move to a different city where there are more opportunities for them. They pick rehearsal over time in front of the television.
None of these sounds like a sacrifice to me, in the same way that choosing chicken over fish for dinner doesn’t make me pity you for sacrificing the chance to eat fish. If you love to run and choose go running instead of, I dunno, knitting a scarf or something, I have an awfully hard time understanding how that’s some awful price you’ve had to pay. You’re doing what you love–where’s the downside, again?
Maybe it’s a function of social programming, this idea that we cannot have what we want or cannot do what we love unless we pay for it–some weird spinoff of the Protestant work ethic or something. And maybe it’s an indication of just how far cultural influence can go, that things like sleepovers and birthday parties and cars and vacations and prom are so unbelievably and irreplaceably critical to your entire life that prioritizing something else over them is just inconceivable. But at the end of the day, your time is yours and your money is yours and it is entirely, exclusively up to you to decide what you will do with those resources. You can choose to do the thing you love, or you can choose to do something else, and you’re the only one who can determine which option is best for you.
But whichever choice you make, can we please stop using the word “sacrifice” to describe it? There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but I think we can safely say that most of us in the United States are not, in fact, being asked to fall on any actual swords here. At most we’re “sacrificing” our chance to participate in activities that the television has told us are mission-critical; and as we all know, the television lies. All we’re really doing is making choices–putting one thing ahead of another, in order of preference.
As the Law of Sacrifice says, “to attain something of greater value, one must give up something of lesser value”. Think about that for a second–really think about it. Is that honestly such a bad thing? Look at it this way: when you’re playing a video game, and you’re currently equipped to fight off the zombies with a baseball bat with some nails driven into it, and you stumble across the secret room that gives you a machine gun with unlimited ammunition, is it a “sacrifice” to trade in the baseball bat? Heck no–it’s an upgrade, and you probably do a little celebratory fist-pump.
So if you’re given the choice between spending your random Thursday night watching commercials broken up by little snippets of sitcoms or going out and doing something that fills your heart with glee, choosing the glee isn’t a sacrifice–it’s an upgrade. It’s a choice. It’s a ranking based on preference. Nobody will feel bad for you for choosing one thing over another.
That sword that you’re trying so desperately to fall upon is imaginary, is all I’m saying. So maybe stop trying to drum up sympathy by telling me about your “sacrifices”, and come inspire me by telling me about how you’re choosing to live your dreams. That’s a choice I can get behind.