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It’s time to take a seat!

Joel Kolb | Friday, January 25, 2013

A couple years ago I read one of the most disturbing newspaper articles of my life. It started out innocently enough, outlining a local middle school play, highlighting notable performances. Here is the disturbing part – the article mentioned that at the end of the production the middle-school students received a standing ovation!
Clearly, the state of affairs in America regarding the standing ovation is at an all-time low. Everyone and their kid brother receive a ‘standing-o’ nowadays. To fix this problem, we as a society need to turn to the origins of the Roman ovation. In short, a Roman ovation was a celebration for a returning warrior. The celebration fell short only of hosting an actual parade for the individual. The honor was given to those who had avoided war or won a war with minimal bloodshed. The point though is the Roman ovation was an honor to those who earned it.
Contrast the Roman ovation to the laughable use of the standing ovation in today’s society. In 2010, the current Mexican president spoke to the Senate and denounced legislation which burdened illegal immigrants from his home country. Those who supported him gave him a standing ovation! It seems preposterous that a dignitary would receive a ‘standing-o’ for merely being in concurrence with certain members of the Senate. Foreign dignitaries aren’t the only ones receiving standing ovations. Watch any State of the Union address and you’ll find standing ovations, which some look as if they’re planned.
The overuse of the standing ovation only devalues it. But fear not, our world is not completely forsaken.
Every year, PBS hosts a Memorial Day service honoring our fallen veterans and their families. Often Hollywood actors read letters written by the deceased to their loved ones, capturing the emotion and tension of losing a spouse or parent. The families and the rest of the audience watch, captivated by the words the fallen soldier wrote as their final words. Upon introduction of the soldier’s family, the audience almost always gives a standing ovation. In this situation, the solider greatly deserves the standing ovation.
In the sports world, the great Andre Agassi, American tennis player, announced his retirement from the sport after winning a tournament. Agassi, arguably the best tennis player at the time of his retirement, received a standing ovation. Agassi and the veterans deserved the ovation, while the Mexican president did not.  
Who deserves a standing ovation?  Luckily for everyone, I have a modest proposal to fix the flagrant misuse of the ‘standing-o’ in today’s society. First, everyone should look inward and examine their values in life. From these you can recognize the people who deserve automatic standing ovations. Personally, the only ‘automatics’ on my list are war veterans and whoever ends up finding a cure for cancer. Your automatics can be whomever you like, but be sure to make them meaningful and rare.
Of course, it is much more likely a situation arises where there are no automatic standing ovations, but you are still considering giving one. If this is the situation, you need to ask yourself these essential questions: Is this one of the best performances/sporting events/feats I have ever seen and probably ever will see? Will I remember this moment/production/viewing for the rest of my life, namely because of the epochal quality of this situation? If you answer yes to either of these questions, then feel free to bust out of your chair. A final question is, however, “have I given a standing ovation within the past two years?” If yes, then the question becomes, “is this as amazing as or better than the last time I’ve given one?”
Finally, armed with these questions, remember the tenets of recognition, prevention and assimilation.  Recognition – if you see a couple of people starting to clap and stand, you should immediately begin asking yourself the essential questions and decide whether or not to act. Prevention – do society a favor. Do whatever it takes to prevent a bad standing ovation from occurring. Feel free to say things like, “Sit down before I make you.” Assimilation – if you feel a standing ovation is worthy, then join right in. I’ve been a part of a couple of really good ones and let me tell you – it was phe-nom-e-nal.  
I’d like to end on this note. Last semester, I listened to Father Hesburgh speak at a Veteran’s Day service.  At the end of the speech, he received a standing ovation. The same standing ovation which was given to the middle school play two years before. Should we as a society be comfortable putting Father Hesburgh on the same plane as middle school kids? I know I’m not comfortable doing that and you shouldn’t be either.  The next time you are confronted with a standing ovation, just recall what I said.  If you’re on the fence about participating in one, just remember, “When in doubt, sit it out.”

Joel Kolb lives in St. Edward’s Hall and is a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. He can be reached at jkolb1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.