Expectations too great?

by Barnabas Piper

Posted on Friday, June 19, 2015, at 2:59 pm

Stephen Curry seems exactly like the kind of guy a kid could look up to. He exhibits faith and character and he values his family. His team, the Golden State Warriors, just won the NBA Championship, overcoming a legendary (no hyperbole) performance from the Cleveland Cavalier’s LeBron James. He is the league’s MVP, one of the most entertaining and unguardable players alive. To top it off, Curry gets paid handsomely for all this but doesn’t flaunt his wealth.

So why in the name of Chris Mullin’s flattop would a Bay Area teacher and lifelong Warriors fan write an open letter asking Curry not to come talk to students?

Matt Amaral teaches at a school made up of mostly underprivileged students. He wants to set a realistic bar for them, to point them on a path to grounded success rather than chasing a pipe dream. His letter, while a bit strident, points out significant things Curry likely would leave unsaid: the amount of training it takes to be an NBA player, the level of coaching he received growing up, the privilege of being an NBA player’s son, access to the best prep teams, etc.

In the letter, Amaral describes the circumstances of his students, many of whom aren’t even able to eat three square meals a day, and argues that the presence of Curry would blind them with bling without opening their eyes to the impossibility of becoming him. They will see basketball as their way out. Amaral explains that when students say they’ll become a professional athlete, he points out the unlikelihood and suggests a different path.

We live in age of “chase your dreams” and “be anything you set your mind to.” The accepted wisdom of our day hates the kind of thinking Matthew Amaral exhibits. Who is he to stand between students and their dreams?

Who is right? Should we suppress the seemingly unrealistic dreams of others or should we empower them? Is being realistic actually confining and oppressive? Is it more caring to tell people to chase their dreams and point them to the stars (or NBA stars) or direct them toward a less exciting, more sure path?

Amaral’s motives are right. He wants what is best for his students, to see them stable and successful. He is likely jaded by the number of times he’s watched students he has invested in crash and burn. He simply wants to get them on their feet and teach them to walk in a wise way.

His jadedness makes the tone of the letter hard but not necessarily wrong. The truth is always the most caring option, even if it is difficult or points to a day job instead of stardom. Truth sets people up for success. It provides a foundation and creates realistic expectations. “Chase your dreams” is a wonderful sentiment, but in almost every case it ought to be couched. And it must always be seasoned with truth. Putting people on solid ground is always more loving than setting them up to fail. 

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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