Laurentiu Ginghina works as a mid-level official in a local government housing office in Vaslui, Romania. But to me, Laurentiu is much more than a bureaucrat– he’s a prophet who shows us a new way to see the world. He is also the subject of the clever new documentary Infinite Football http://grasshopperfilm.com/film/infinite-football/ .
Ginghina had played amateur soccer as a boy, but then a serious injury forced him to give up the game. But rather than damn his fate, Ginghina decided to remake the game of soccer. Therein lies the lesson we should learn — don’t docilely accept the present; look at it critically and, if possible, change it for the better.
I call his attitude the #Things Could Be Better approach to life. And, although Ginghina’s crusade is not one that excites me, I admire his decision to focus on a problem that is important to him and work towards a solution. He has devised rules for a new form of soccer (“Infinite Football”) that focuses on how fast the ball travels rather than how fast the players run. He argues that this change will not only speed up the action for the spectator, but also enable older and injured players to continue to enjoy playing the game.
The documentary makes clear that the odds are not good that Ginghina’s ideas are going to revolutionize soccer in the near future. That fact, however, does not stop him from quietly making his case, and patiently listening to objections that he then uses in improving the next version of his plan.
Even if Laurentiu never revolutionizes professional soccer, his efforts will have a positive effect. Maybe some day he will be known as the man who invented a new form of soccer –perhaps a “senior” soccer that opens up the game to millions of older players who cannot play now. Or maybe his ideas will inspire a computer game that makes him a multi- millionaire. If nothing else, he has taken an active role in attempting to create the future instead of docilely accepting fate. That active engagement is a victory in itself.
When not dreaming about his re-invention of the game of soccer, Laurentiu continues to faithfully perform his “day” job as a housing official. The documentary shows him helping an elderly client who wanders into his office while he is talking to the documentary’s interviewer . Ginghina gives her his full attention as he counsels her on how she might solve her problem. Later we see him in conversation with his boss and again he shows himself a competent and loyal employee. But when the interviewer suggests that they cut the interview short so he can get on with his work, Ginghina scoffs at the idea. He performs his work duties conscientiously, but he also insists that he is more than his job.
Ginghina does not blind himself to the suffering in the world like the optimist, nor assume that the status quo is invincible like the pessimist. Instead he has hope that things can be made better by clear thought and hard work.
I contrast him with another of my heroes– Dashiel Hammett’s private detective Sam Spade who was made immortal by Humphrey Bogart in John Huston’s classic film The Maltese Falcon ( 1942). Spade inhabits a noir world of unyielding corruption. While he manages to solve individual cases in a way that preserves his sense of honor, Spade is incapable of even imagining larger reforms because he believes our sordid world is irredeemable.
Ginghina, on the other hand, does not see the world as either inherently benign or corrupt. For him reality is fluid and malleable, capable of becoming better or worse –or just staying the same. This hope permits him a psychological space that is denied Spade, the capacity to see an individual injustice as an opportunity to remedy a larger social problem. Not just a handout to an individual pauper, but a guaranteed minimum income for all citizens.
The #Things Could Be Better mindset is reflected in texts as different as the First Amendment and The Endangered Species Act (ESA), So next time you see someone marching to protest racism or a bald eagle circling lazily in the sky, give thanks that someone believed that #Things Could Be Better and acted to make them so.