Why are we so inclined to ridicule and judge the affairs of others? Nature itself is a beast that need not be compounded with the loathing of our neighbors. How dare he put that sticker on his car? How dare she take a flattering photo of herself? How dare they listen to that kind of music? However robust these inclinations of disdain may be, our means of combating them and the reasons for doing so must always be greater. The means need not be strenuous. The smallest of acts have the power to influence the health of a culture – for better or for worse.
There is one social phenomenon in skateboarding that is worth treating exclusively in order to illustrate the value of a small act as such, it will be referred to as the yew call. The yew call is a high-pitched howl that skaters make to acknowledge the successful execution of a trick by another skater. In many cases, the trick doesn’t even have to be landed, so long as it is an admirable attempt. It is a common social bonding agent employed among friends, and more crucially, it is an effective means of initiating new relationships.
Let’s suppose that the potential friendliness between two individuals is on a spectrum. The spectrum ranges from disdain on the left to ultimate trust on the right, and the middle is a neutral awareness of one another. Offering a yew call or some other positive feedback will generally advance one’s relationship with the other to the right of the spectrum. Simply put, if one stranger offers a compliment to another stranger, the relationship will become increasingly friendly.
There is no mystery as to why the yew call inspires feelings of community and positivity in skateboarding. As human beings, we yearn for the acceptance and acknowledgment of our peers. It simply feels good for another person to recognize that we have achieved something in our life—even if the achievement amounts to a single trick on a skateboard.
The value of the yew call became ever-present the day that Andrew Reynolds visited my local skatepark. Reynolds, otherwise known as the ‘Boss’, is a giant in the skateboarding community. He has inspired a generation of skaters and is a world-class role model for the youth and adults alike. In every respect, whether it be talent, experience, clout, or business, Reynolds and I reside at opposite ends. I am a novice, a nobody, a neophyte. Despite his colossal ability as a professional, despite his ubiquity in the sport, despite all of this and more— the man yewed me: a novice, a nobody, a neophyte.
What does that reveal about his character? What might cause a goliath of the sport to compliment a stranger for achieving the ordinary? It seems to be an expression of generosity—a generosity of spirit. It is a sincere appreciation for another person’s achievement. The achievement need not be great so long as it means something to the achiever. What is ordinary to one may be the pinnacle of ability to another. If the Boss himself can congratulate a stranger on landing a trick, great or small, why can’t I? Surely, it is a spirit worthy of emulation.
In a broader sense, it is crucial that we begin to recognize that achievement is relative. Why is it that we praise a baby when she utters her first word but we don’t praise the teenager when he opens his mouth to speak? The answer is stupidly obvious: the baby has achieved something new that it was unable to do before while the teenager has long been capable. Individuals are each held to a unique standard of achievement due to their position in their development. The problem is that we often blur these lines and people suffer because of it. Why is it that the truly depressed among us are sometimes treated as if they suffer from a mere weakness of will? Why is it that the homeless alcoholic seemingly deserves his lot in life? Is life a fruit basket from which each individual possesses the same potential to reach in and grab their fair share? This doesn’t appear to be so. It would seem, then, that the mere recognition of relative achievement may enable us to soften our ridicule and judgment of others.
The yew call and other social bonding mechanisms reside on the periphery of these issues of relative achievement recognition. The yew call is a simple gesture. It is a thread in the fabric of the community. But if only a thread, what else makes up the fabric of our communities? Is it a conglomerate of good and bad gestures subject to an eternal tug-of-war? However transient our good and bad behaviors towards one another may be, let us aim towards the friendly end of the spectrum, both in mind and in the body.
So, I ask: why not lend a hand in this cruel world and sing a gentler song for our neighbors to hear? This world is vicious enough without the tyranny of our critical minds. This life is a struggle and to each his own. To yew, a fellow person is to acknowledge that their struggle matters and that their achievements matter; it is to appreciate their effort; it is to partake in their accomplishment; it is to be delighted to be in their presence. This mode of thinking is not something to be acquired rather it is something to be practiced and pruned. The yew call is only one such example of an act that imbues a community with vitality. To choose not to groom the well-being of our neighbor is to cut the throat of our civilization’s potential.
Allen Orrante is a Southern California resident and is an alumnus of California State University, Channel Islands. He graduated with a BA in Liberal Studies in 2015 and is currently a substitute teacher. Orrante is a dilettante; that is, he specializes in no particular field and his interests vary throughout the year. His perennial interests and pastimes include his band Dolores, podcasting, skateboarding, dissecting books, and film editing. You can follow him on Instagram here.