Call Me Captain Obvious
Joel Eschenbach • January 15, 2017
About a decade ago, when I was involved in leadership at a small church, there was a core group of teenagers in the youth group (you guys know who you are). They loved giving me a hard time… all the time. One of their favorite things to call me was “Master of the Obvious” or “Captain Obvious” and they were right. Here's a few examples:
While crunching on a piece of ice, I would say, “Man, this ice is cold!”
I'd look outside while it’s raining and say, “Wow, it’s really raining out there!”
You get the idea, and I’m sure you can see how a band of sarcastic teenage guys could run with that...
“Hey Joel, watch out, that fire is really hot!”
“Joel, did you know if you strum your guitar it makes a sound?!”
On and on it went. I know… so funny.
But lately I’ve been thinking about how obviousness might not be a useless trait in certain circumstances.
For instance, when I say something out loud that seems obvious, it’s my way of processing out my mouth. Some people call it external or verbal processing. Here’s what Google says:
"External processors tend to process things by talking about them. A good word picture is to think of them having a verbal blackboard which they brainstorm their ideas onto by talking, and then they arrange and evaluate their ideas once they are out on their verbal blackboard."
If ideas need to be put out into the world and then figuratively arranged on the “verbal blackboard”, then some of the many things that come out are going to be glaringly obvious, right? Aren’t there times when we need to be reminded of truths that seem obvious? Like how we should regularly tell those closest to us that we love them, or how I need to be reminded that the person I can’t stand at that moment is also a human just like me with blind spots and weaknesses. Obvious, right? Or how sometimes I need someone to speak out loud about the beautiful evening sky before I can stop for a moment and enjoy it.
So, here’s a few more reasons why stating the obvious can be helpful (maybe these will help you be less annoyed with people like me):
1. What is obvious to some people may not be obvious to others
A circumstance or situation may be obvious to you because you have the knowledge or hindsight to see the obvious when others do not. In any given group of people, some things are more obvious to some people. My teachers used to say, “No question is a stupid question”. We’ve all heard that, right? But, we’re afraid to ask questions because we think we’re the only one who doesn’t know the so-called obvious answer, only to later find out that other people in the room had the same question and were too afraid to ask. Stating or asking the obvious can help those around you.
2. An obvious truth from a trusted friend can be priceless
We all have blind spots and aren't always aware of the bad choices we make, but it's easy to see when others are making obvious mistakes. This is why we need close, trustworthy friends to point out what is obvious to them about our lives. We can avoid a lot of pitfalls by listening to what our friends see that we don’t, even if it is uncomfortable and humbling. Proverbs 27:6 says, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”
When I’m being my best self, I check in with my good friends if I feel like I’m not seeing an obvious blindspot in my life, and the truth hurts! I know that I need more trustworthy people in my life that will have the courage to state the obvious to me, about me.
3. Stating the obvious can be a way of belonging
We are social animals (if you haven't already, read this book), and like other social species, it's important that other members of the pack are aware of our presence, moods, health, and other factors, which are given by occasional sounds. Our meaningless conversation is an extension of this. Even though it doesn’t make a lot of rational sense when a group of friends walk out into the rain and one person says, “Wow, it’s really raining out here!”; it creates a social situation in which people agree on an obvious point. In some small way, this reinforces our unity and sense of belonging to the tribe.
4. Shedding light on obvious injustices can change society
Charles Bukowski said, "The important thing is the obvious thing that nobody is saying.” A modern example of this is the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Regardless of how you feel about the movement, it was started by stating what should be obvious to everyone: That the lives of African Americans matter just as much as everyone else, and they should be treated equally in every area of life. How many world changing movements have been started by a person or group of people stating what should be obvious to everyone, but for some reason isn’t because of cultural, religious, or political norms? State obvious injustices long enough and you might change the world.
"The important thing is the obvious thing that nobody is saying.”- Charles Bukowski
5. Obvious questions can help us look deep within to find the truth
Jesus asked obvious questions all the time. Why? I think he used obvious questions to make people stop and look at the intentions of their hearts. Maybe he wanted people to look at what was right in front of them in a different, more meaningful way. For instance, in John 5, Jesus asked a man who’d been disabled for 38 years, “Do you want to get well?”. Isn’t that obvious? The man had an excuse, but either way Jesus seemed to be trying to see what his intentions really were before healing him.
I might want to lose weight, but maybe I’m not ready to make the necessary lifestyle changes, so a personal trainer might ask me, “Do you really want to lose weight?” I might say, “Of course I do, or I wouldn’t be here”. But, if I sit with that obvious question long enough, it will force me to ask myself if I’m ready to “count the cost”. Many spiritual teachers and leaders will ask seemingly obvious questions intending that we meditate or chew on them to get to something deeper.
There you have it. Now, the next time a friend, acquaintance, or family member states the obvious, you might find that there’s something more to it than what's obvious.