I can’t stand those guys! I don’t like their team, their coaches, their fans, or their university. That’s how I felt for a number of years when I was caught up in an often-bitter in-state college rivalry centered around football and baseball.
A friendly, good-humored sense of rivalry is one thing. But if one doesn’t watch his or her thinking, it is easy to get caught up in an unloving, unkind – even hateful – mentality about sports. This kind of thinking is too often expressed in ugly incidents involving property damage, physical confrontations, and plenty of verbal insults.
One day while watching a college football game on television, I found myself wanting a longtime rival to lose, even though I was not a fan of or had any interest in the opposing team. Then I started thinking: Wasn’t this a form of hatred that I needed to let go of? I knew from personal experience, biblical accounts, and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, that hatred is detrimental to one’s well-being. More than that, though, hating someone goes against Jesus’ command to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).
There’s nothing helpful about wanting to be greater than someone else. The book of Matthew gives an account of Jesus’ disciples quibbling among themselves about which one of them should be considered the greatest of his students. Jesus called a little child to him, placed the child in their midst, and said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Mrs. Eddy defines “Kingdom of Heaven,” in part, as “the reign of harmony” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 588). What I was feeling certainly wasn’t making my thoughts or life harmonious!
Mrs. Eddy also commented, “We are brethren in the fullest sense of that word; therefore no queries should arise as to ‘who shall be greatest’ ” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 303). Taking a meek and humble stance brings us harmony and improves the moral quality of our thoughts. Humility not only alleviates quarrels, but lets love into our hearts. Loving your competition may not be easy, if you only think of them as rivals. But understanding that those competing against us are actually our “brethren” – having one God, one Father, in common with one another – sheds a healing light on our interactions with others.
Reflecting on these truths, I found myself viewing others in a new light. I was now focusing on the athleticism displayed by all players. I was admiring the players’ quick thinking under pressure, teamwork, agility, balance, patience, form, sportsmanship, and other qualities being displayed. When my university’s football team recently lost a very close game, I was not angry, and I did not ruminate about the loss. I went to bed and slept soundly.
What a relief! The old sense of competition – focusing on dominating, even hating, another team or person, dividing teams into winners and losers – had faded.
It wasn’t easy to change my view of the competition. But now I enjoy looking for and appreciating admirable qualities in others – including competitors – in athletic events. Having gained this better perspective, I do not believe that the outcome of an athletic contest will again affect my peace of mind or harmony.
I wish my university team well and hope they are a contender for the national championship, but their performance on the field will not be seen as part of my identity or affect my joy and well-being. My identity is in my oneness with God and in expressing His qualities – and these qualities aren’t full of hate, but love.
A version of this article ran in the Oct. 9 issue of The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.).