Wednesday, August 2, 2017

“Competition—Rivals, Rights, Identity Crisis”

Sitting in silence, clad in crimson and white, I readied myself for battle. For me, and anyone else in my home for that matter, Gameday--especially this game against a hated rival--is a better experience for all, when I'm watching in solitude, in my man cave, with no one else within five miles of me. For me, Alabama football was more than a game. It was serious, life-altering, and of eternal importance. And tonight, there was a lot more riding on this game than usual. Alabama was undefeated, and poised for another championship run. The only team standing in their way was the team that I cursed with every breath--their fans, their coaches, and even every citizen of the state that was home to THAT team--the LSU Tigers. The soap opera that had grown from the drama surrounding this rivalry was epic, A saga even more intense than anything ever dreamed up on a Hollywood set. Our coach had performed one of the most miraculous turnarounds in our team's history. He brought the championship swagger back to Tuscaloosa. The only problem was, a few years earlier, he had done the same thing in Baton Rouge. He had brought LSU from virtual obscurity in the football universe to a national championship in 2003. Less than two years later, he abandoned the "bayou bengals", and bolted for the NFL, leaving Tiger nation in a sports-world sort of dark ages. He left the state under a cloud of curses and Louisiana voodoo! As "football fate" would have it, the NFL was not a fulfilling experience for our coach, and at what could be consider for the BAMA faithful, "dawn's early light", our athletic director seized the opportunity to woo this coach to the college football mecca-the University of Alabama! As it turns out, his woo was true, and Nick Saban became our coach in 2007!
Which brings us back to my man cave on a cool November evening in 2011, where I sat nervous, anxious, and with more butterflies in my stomach than I had on my wedding day! As I mentioned earlier, Alabama football was more than just a game for me. Somewhere along the way, my perspective became greatly distorted, and I found myself living vicariously through the wins and especially the losses of Alabama football. This reality was magnified on this night. A victory against LSU would all but guarantee us a birth in the SEC championship game. A loss would do the same for my most reviled team, LSU. We were playing at home, and both teams were undefeated. You could slice the tension in the air like deli meat, as the game began with the opening kickoff. Over one hundred thousand fans in Bryant-Denny stadium raised the united battle cry, Roooolllllllll Tide Roooolllllll", that crescendoed into a glorious anthem that, for a moment, seemed to rock the heavens. 3 1/2 hours later, it was over. LSU won 9-6, thanks in large part to our "clubfooted" kicker, who missed multiple field goals in the game. It was indeed a clash of the Titans. I was crushed! I hit an emotional wall that night that took me several days to recover from. How had I let a stupid game, played by young men, many of which I was old enough to be their father, so consume my focus, emotions, and attitude? 

Competition has been championed as a good team building method, as a way to teach how to win and lose, or as a way to achieve and build confidence. It has been glorified as entertainment, leisure, and even a career. Competition starts at an early age, and can be encouraged obsessively by a culture that celebrates winning above all else, and at any cost!
Parents are known to push their kids into competitive arenas, either as a pathetic way to vicariously live through the perceived success of their kids, OR, as a way to somehow validate their passion to be superior or achieve the illusion of being a winner through victory over another.
My question is simple. Is competition healthy? Is it holistic validation that truly develops and matures the human condition? Does it contribute to anything other than self-gratification or “self” validation? Is it a true expression of love? Does it bring out self-indulgence or a mindset of service?
When “winning” for one comes at the expense of another’s “loss”, is anything of substance truly gained? How does competition reflect the “others first” mentality?
I’ve heard and even espoused various “justifiable reasoning” for the benefits of “healthy”, “sporting” competition, but it’s getting harder and harder to make a sound, substantive argument in its favor, after almost 40 years of participating in it’s various personas.
I HATE TO LOSE AT ANYTHING! I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. Whether it’s a game of cards, racquetball, checkers, OR a fight. (which, by the way, I’ve NEVER lost. When you’re below 5 ft. 3 in. for most of your school years, AND you’re a singer, you LEARN to take care of yourself.) I’ve been a rabid sports fan for most of my life, especially ALABAMA Football! It’s been a sick obsession with me. When Bama is losing, I’m fighting mad! I have been guilty of spewing nastiness toward the opposing team, their fans, their mascots, the referees, or anything that I feel contributes to Bama losing! I never knew that I could reach such levels of emotional outburst and borderline insanity!!! It is seriously scary!
Somehow, my validation, my desire to succeed, or my insatiable passion to win and be recognized as a winner was misplaced in the “success of the Crimson Tide”. Sad, huh?
I experience a genuine vitriol and hatred at times that reveal a darker side of me that I want to divorce from! What is revealed in me is that the “competitive nature” in me is completely out of control and in complete contradiction to the heart that God is creating in me!
Why is competition about winning, being better than someone else at something, achieving at the expense of someone else losing? Is there anything healthy about that? I guess one exception would be golf? Since you can be competitive all by yourself, and you don’t have to “best” anyone else…just your last score! What is the obsession with winning anyway? We justify it by saying that it teaches our kids to set goals, achieve them, learn the principle of team building, to become good winners and good losers, discipline, and so on. But, it seems that at the root of competition, is a rabid obsession with being better than someone else or proving our worth by defeating another.
I’m NOT saying that NOTHING positive has ever come out of competition, I’m just saying that so much of what’s at the root of it seems to be so contrary to the life that Jesus lived, and teaches us to live as well. How many times do we see the philosophy of John the Baptist practically lived out today, when he said of Jesus….”I must decrease that HE might increase”. In other words, I must lose, so HE can win”? I think it is possible to engage in “friendly competition”, but too often, it never stays at that level—certainly not for me. Maybe that’s more relevant to me personally than you, and you’re certainly free to disagree. I’m just looking at it from another perspective.
Maybe it’s a character flaw in me that’s needed tweaking, but I never seem to be able to keep things of a competitive nature in their proper place, so for me, this “different” perspective is certainly applicable. Why do certain motivating factors of humanity create such an environment of self-promotion, self-acclaim, and self-absorption, while at the same time, they have the complete opposite affect on another? When has our society ever championed a “willing loser”! Is there a Super Bowl for second place? I believe in giving honor to the honorable tasks and objectives and the people who achieve them, BUT, not when that honor magnifies the loss of another, and comes at the cost of exploiting the one who is considered the “loser”.
Think about the emotions that come with “losing”. The personal shame of one’s performance, the regret of not somehow trying harder, the loathing of oneself for NOT winning, the obsession with finding a way to win, the disdain for the one in the winner’s circle where you’re not. The “win at any cost” mindset that becomes prevalent, The detachment from the world and people around you as you are focused on NOTHING BUT WINNING!
Why does giving our best always seem to fall victim to the comparisons of another? Is it shameful if our best just happens to fall below someone else's best in the same area.
Life’s most meaningful “battles” shouldn’t involve a competition against another, but rather within our own hearts as we grow and mature into the unique, priceless treasure that God created us to be.
In the epic saga that is life, our competition is not against anyone, but rather against the enemy that seeks our soul. Competition has such a subtle way of drawing lines of demarcation, and dividing classifications. It does little to unite, to bring together on deep, meaningful levels of relationship.
What should motivate us is to be the best that we can be, NOT to be better than someone else! When using others as benchmarks and standards of achievement, we oftentimes inadvertently settle for something much less than the potential inside of us.
If we were able to practically adopt this philosophy, could we not bankrupt jealousy and greed, and learn the purity of true teamwork and community?
ROLL TIDE & War Eagle, Nike and Reebok, Yankees and Red Sox, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, McDonald's and Burger King, Democrats and Republicans, Coke and Pepsi, My product and your product, My religion and your religion, My way and your way. It's mind numbing how competition and division thrives in our culture? The pied pipers of power, money, and control are deceiving the multiplied minions of clueless mice, and are leading this culture away like lambs to a slaughter. Divide and conquer! Of course so many of us have learned to "skillfully" justify competition, diversity, and “the American way”. We claim to be the United States of America, but we have been drawn into a culture war of "us versus them". It's been said that the strength of this nation is in the diversity of its people. That might be the case, if we're not talking about flawed human nature. But we are, and I’ve found that it's not usually about diversity as many would disingenuously claim. It's really about "my way or the highway". My rights! My voice! Me, me, me! We tear down another to build up our own. We discredit one another in order to legitimize and validate ourselves. And this is not reserved to unbelievers, or those considered pagan by many. It’s an epidemic in the crowds of self-professing Christians too. And why is this? They’ve lost touch with their true identity, IN CHRIST. Many have looked to their achievements, their works, their performance, and their education to validate who they are, and to find significance. This tenacious and misguided drive has pitted them against one another in the never ending quest for self promotion and self preservation. Denominations, political persuasions, theology, social issues, and even members of families have all fallen victim to the demonic force of division. At the core of division, there is a self-seeking, power hungry, obsessive focus to be right, to be the best, to be significant, and to be relevant to the masses.
Whether in ministry, business, or relationships with family or friends, when you feel the need to berate, discredit, or tear down another in order to build up yourself or legitimize your perspective or venture, your focus may be distorted, your motives may be misplaced, and your character may need a bit of a correction. I tend to believe that the "spirit" of competition flies in the face of the heart of the Kingdom of God--righteousness, peace, & joy in the Holy Spirit. One body, beating with One heart, reflecting One alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment