a philosophy of the 5 Ws

Journalism isn’t an inherently difficult field; in fact, the basic principles of journalism–the inverted pyramid–can be taught to an adolescent. Everything else is secondary to who, what, where, when, why and how.

Consider a murder that has taken place. A journalistic axiom says that if the story bleeds, it leads. If the suspected murderer is a working-class person, the story will lead. If the suspect is a high-profile athlete, industrialist or politician, it will lead and lead for some time. The undercurrent is that a person has lost his/her life under nefarious circumstances, but the salacious part remains with the perpetrator.

In short, while all the interrogatives matter, it is who that matters most. Not that anyone seems to care anymore.

In a society where people are, tacitly or otherwise, taught to act on their impulses, the priority is placed on what, where, when, why and how. The who is already established: the self. With utter disregard for other people, we engage in behavior we otherwise wouldn’t, in places we otherwise wouldn’t go, at times we otherwise wouldn’t and often go to extraordinary measures to quell our roaring anxieties. With no clear, unified sense of purpose or concern, we flail about.

And while it would be low-hanging fruit to decry a culture which appreciates substance abuse and vain, a-philosophical living, the truth is that American religious practice falls into the exact same template. As I’ve maintained regularly in the past, there’s a reason Sunday morning gatherings are referred to commonly as services, as in goods and services. What, where and when generally matter most; who and why don’t.

Who and why should matter most, if we’re taking into consideration these primarily, then we are better equipped to live for someone other than ourselves, and also examine why it is we will do what we intend to do. It is maintaining control and accepting responsibility in a time when people slave away to cut loose and look to dodge accountability as much as possible.

This is where I find myself, with an increasing disdain and hatred for selfish mediocrity and a culture which expects its participants to justify themselves with whats, wheres and whens. If I’ve read the gospel correctly–and I’d like to think I have–the point of it all is that other people matter more than I do. And that’s a good starting point for any philosophical system, let alone a religious construct. The who should never be the first person, the who is always those of the second and third variety. The why is then sorted out by default–if it’s not for myself, then it’s not about me, either, when it comes to why.

I have met too many people for whom the only cause worth being a martyr for was themselves. In the last few weeks–and in particular, the week I spent back in Wisconsin–of personal reflection and internal struggle, I find that the last person worth dying for is the one I look at in the mirror every morning. And the realization is not that I’m worthless or a rotten human being, but that the words of Christ are true: humankind can demonstrate no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And by friend, we’re not talking about drinking buddies or the posse that mysteriously shows up when times and fortunes are high. After all, they’re the first ones gone when things go south. At risk of subjecting myself to root fallacy criticism, ‘friend’ comes from a root word in which is implicit affective love and devotion. I think we would do ourselves a favor by reclaiming the original meaning, but that’s a separate matter for another day.

I didn’t make a resolution for the new year, instead I made a decision before 2011 ended to end mediocrity in myself and live to inspire that in my friends. This isn’t about me; it’s about a culture in the skids and people not settling for anything less than extraordinary. Take a look around: is there anything at this point in time, in this societal context, that really justifies you or me hitting the cruise control and zoning out until the kids graduate? The kids may not have a school to graduate from, and you might not be able to afford a tank of gas at that point, anyway.

For years, we’ve been taught that status matters: what, where and when counted at any cost, and who (first person included) was on the back burner. If there was a better time for who to matter most and at any cost, I can’t think of one.

The status quo–clauses justifying subjects, using what to define who–will no longer be acceptable. This is my resolution; my one-man revolution. It’s time to turn that pyramid back upside down. It’s time for extraordinary.


my best to all of you in the new year. for many of us, 2011 was pretty crappy, and the things that transpired in my life over the past year helped ignite the re[s/v]olution. my hope is that you will, like me, strive to make 2012 different, and different for the better. –b.


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