Some of sports’ most enthralling story lines and memorable moments grow out of intensely heated rivalries. Animosity makes for captivating theater, but what constitutes great sport doesn’t always translate to the rest of our lives.
Rivalries bring out the best of sports because they are based on competition: someone always wins and someone always loses. It’s easy to apply this to all relationships in our politicized and polarized culture. We view everyone through a rigid lens of antagonist or ally, orthodox or heretic, brilliant communicator or false teacher.
We find ourselves choosing competition over cooperation, doubt over trust, and exclusion over inclusion.
What if we realized that life is more cooperation than competition?
Not too long ago I posted a fb comment critiquing something a well-known pastor had written. Due to feedback, a few days later I posted a follow-up comment about how instrumental that pastor had been to my own faith journey. I’ve come to realize that many people were confused: was I Team Piper or Team Against Piper?
I never regarded my initial post as a universal discarding of everything he’d ever said or written. It didn’t even occur to me to caveat every critique with “But of course Piper is still great.” You see, we shouldn’t have to explain our respect for our brothers and sisters–it should be understood.
That’s the difference between a rivalry and a family.
And here’s where it gets crucial for us: most of our disagreements are with our brothers and sisters, not true rivals. And yet we treat many of our brothers and sisters as hated rivals, more fit to be despised than embraced. All the good sporting rivalries can be boiled down to one thing: love your team, hate the other team. In sports, as in life, rivalries ultimately aren’t based on rationality, nor are they merit-based, they can never fluctuate, and loyalty always trumps discernment.
We are cheating ourselves when we take the principles of being a fan and apply them outside the stadium. No single perspective is infallible or all-inclusive. No single person possesses exhaustive wisdom and discernment. No single group has all the answers. We do ourselves a disservice of immeasurable magnitude when we make ourselves fans of one person or one perspective, and when we reduce all other people, positions, and viewpoints to rivalries.
We stop listening.
When we stop listening we stop growing. When we stop growing we start entrenching. And when we start entrenching, we make enemies out of friends, antagonists out of allies, rivals out of teammates.
So let’s train ourselves to do three things:
- Intentionally listen to voices and perspectives that are outside our own paradigm, outside our own culture, outside our own country, and even outside our own century.
- Hear our own champions with appreciation rather than adoration, just as we would our own brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers.
- If we must err, let’s err on the side of cooperation rather than competition.