Caveat: my understanding of football came to an abrupt halt in my early teens when my brothers got a whole lot bigger and stronger than I was, and touch football in the front yard became a thing of history.
But I have one observation after watching the Tennessee Vols lose to South Carolina last night in a game that should have been a shoo-in.
It’s easy to say ”they lost” and shake your head in dismay (or disgust, depending on how much of a Vols fan you are).
But those two words don’t even begin to explain all that went on. Mistakes, yes, but also a lot of injuries and missing players who’ve been key to the team. “They lost” essentially erases all the effort and training that go into making up each individual moment of each separate play. “They lost” dismisses the reality of three hours in which a few dozen young men risk their bodies and their brains in a game they’ve spent years trying to perfect.
Isn’t this sadly so much like life? Especially life as we’re experiencing it right now in our divided nation? It’s so easy–aka usual–to sum a person up in a few words and leave it at that. “He’s Republican,” we say, and immediately assume we know all about him. Or “she’s a liberal,” ditto. In our tiny college town, plagued by town/gown division from the beginning of time, it’s easy to say “he’s mountain–(ie a townie)–” or conversely, “she’s faculty,” and believe we’ve pigeon-holed a person’s educational status and political beliefs. To think we’ve predicted how they’ll speak and act in every forthcoming situation.
Which also means we’ve dismissed all the struggle that have gone into making that person the nuanced individual he is. We’ve ignored the entirety of the person in favor of a single easy label.
Which makes it very likely we’ve predetermined the way we’re going to view the person from then on.
Another word for “prejudice?”
So here’s to using just a few more words. Here’s to remembering that language is a tool that can metaphorically dig us into the ground (where we leave our metaphorical heads and also our brains) or expand our understanding, our vision, and– oh yes– our compassion.
Here’s to saying “they lost, but…..” And filling in a few of the circumstances. Here’s to saying “he’s a Republican AND…” (or a Democrat or a Catholic or a Floridian or whatever) and filling in some of the blanks.
Here’s to making ourselves work just a tad harder to see the whole complexity of the person, not just the tagline.
(And if you want to know more about the game last night, here’s Coach Butch Jones himself to fill in the details.)
(photo credit to Marshall Stephens)