In New York state, high school students can compete in a statewide mock legal trial. The state bar association gives every participating school a packet containing the full details of a case. The students act out the various parts in a trial setting. As they prepare to defend or prosecute the case, they learn to argue both sides of an issue.
My husband was a judge at the semifinals in Albany, and for several years I accompanied him and observed the six teams as they competed to be in the state championship.
"You're all winners," the director of the event would say over and over. "Think about how many teams you had to beat to get to this level."
But when he'd announce the two final teams, the other four would inevitably be disappointed. They naturally felt like anything but winners.
At first I wanted to speak to those kids. Convince them they were wonderful. But who was I? I had no official role to play.
I remembered a quotation from the founder of this newspaper: "Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 571). I had to stop thinking of myself as powerless to take a role in helping and encouraging this wonderful group of students. I had to acknowledge that I was a part of a divine plan. My worth as a person who cared was of value. Who was in charge? Not me. God. And God could inspire me to express Him.
It's through "knowing ourselves" - understanding that God made each one of us to reflect healing, spiritual qualities - that we can bring hope and help to other people's lives.
Each year it became easier to trust in that. Some years I would just watch as each student found his or her peace. Other years I'd find myself in an elevator or standing in line for the bus with an entire team, and we'd naturally begin to talk about their feelings. I'd share some encouraging thoughts and help them focus on something bigger than just winning a tournament.
One year I was asked to write a message to be read when the finalists were announced. This is some of what I ended up with:
"Here's a definition of a winner: 'someone who accomplishes and achieves.' When you achieve something, nothing can take that from you. In this case, you accomplished getting to this point. Don't let your new goal - to be one of the finalists - rob you of your well-deserved satisfaction of achievement. It's yours. Take it, learn from it, and remember it....
"Every student, every one of you, is thinking, worrying, obsessing about the one (or maybe two) terrifically stupid things you think you did today.... That thing, even if it really was a mistake, didn't cost your team the entire vote. The votes are based on many things, and it would be impossible for one thing to ruin it all. So learn from that mistake. Then forgive yourself and move on.
"I hope that every student has a memory today of one shining moment. A moment when it all clicked. Words came out of your mouth you never expected. So perfect, so convincing, so right. Take that moment home and let it encourage you to try again and keep trying....
"One year there was a student on a team that lost who was so spectacular, so confident. If one person could win for the team, she would have. After the results were announced, and into the night, she was crying. Convinced that she'd been terrible. Don't be that student. Remember that part of the winning game is accepting defeat with grace. Be honest about your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. If you aren't finalists, then use that knowledge to come back another year...."
These ideas are more to me than a "feel good" pep talk. They're based on a bedrock truth - everyone is a winner because everyone is an irreplaceable representative of God's greatness. When you're convinced of that, you'll always find "the wisdom and the occasion" to help someone else.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society