People are not at their best in crowds. It’s as if every survival-of-the-fittest primordial instinct comes out to obliterate thousands of years of civilization. Pre-and post-holiday shopping, and the inevitable lines, test our character. My wife’s a professional shopper. She has strategies on where to park and how to find the fastest moving line (which I’ve discovered is not always the shortest). But what I admire most is her resolve not to let it get her down. In fact, this is her “good attitude Olympics.”
Today, after winning a big game it’s common for athletes and fans to chant, "We’re number one," in a classless display of self-praise that comes off as conceit and disrespectful taunting. I sometimes feel that way about materials praising America. Still, national pride is important. Reminders about the high principles on which this nation was based are essential to keep our idealism alive. A listener once sent me an essay commenting on a report that someone in Pakistan had offered a reward to anyone who killed an American. To tell potential assassins what to look for, the unidentified author wrote that it’s hard to identify Americans because they are of every nationality and religion. In fact, he said, "there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them chooses. An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that, he will answer only to God, not to the government or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God."
Does attitude really mean that much? Can you really change the way you experience the world by changing your perspective? Consider this story: When Ron gave his seven-year-old son Nick a ball and bat, Nick wanted to play immediately. Ron said, "Son, baseball is a serious game. You have to practice hard before you can play it."  The boy went outside and began throwing the ball in the air and swinging at it over and over. After an hour he said, "Dad, can we play now?" Ron said, "Show me what you can do." Nick threw the ball in the air, took a mighty swing and missed. "Strike one," he said enthusiastically. Nick tossed the ball again and missed again. "Strike two," he yelled. Ron tried to hid his concern when he said, "Concentrate, son. Remember, three strikes and you're out." The boy threw the ball again and
In Echoes of the Maggid, Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of a young boy with severe learning disabilities named Shaya who was walking past a park with his father when he saw a group of boys playing baseball. He asked his dad if he thought they’d let him play. Although Shaya couldn’t even hold a bat properly, his father asked one of the boys, who surprisingly said yes. The boy knew Shaya and reasoned that the game was almost over with his team six runs behind. He said, “He can play the outfield, and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the last inning.”
Long ago, I entered law school wanting to do good. I left more concerned with doing well. In an atmosphere dominated by raging competitive instincts, persuasive rationalizations, and real economic pressures, cynicism drowned out idealism. My notion of the legal system as a grand forum for the pursuit of truth and justice was reduced to the idea that, in the end, it was just an adversarial game with a less noble purpose: win! But it’s not just lawyers who are vulnerable to mission drift. The idealistic drive of people who enter politics to pursue their personal version of the public good can be crushed or converted by real politics. It’s not easy to solve complicated problems in a world dominated by clashing convictions, limited resources, out-sized egos and
Suppose you're an Olympic athlete and you hear that the only person who has a chance to beat you is ill and may have to withdraw. Are you overjoyed at your good luck or disappointed that you will not be able to compete against the very best? If you really love and understand sports, you ought to be disappointed. John Naber, winner of four gold medals in swimming, says that a true sportsman wants to compete against his best competitor on his best day. Yes, that makes winning more difficult and less likely, but it also makes the event more exciting and a victory more meaningful. Being declared the winner is not real victory; being the best is. If you play tennis or any other sport, what's more fun: to play against someone you
So, are you worked up about the boiling controversy over under-inflated footballs? Do you care that there seems to be cheating in the NFL. Big deal or trivial? It's all is a matter of perspective. For example, several months ago ago, it was confirmed that the U.S., in the pursuit of terrorist information, has and probably still does engage in what most people regard as torture (though its disguised by the euphemism "enhanced interrogation."). What's more, the majority of Americans support this. This, it would seem is a momentous moral issue yet almost all the discussion focused not whether this sort of behavior is right and whether it is consistent with our national self-image as the good guys, but the pragmatic question: did it work. When compared to the moral significance of the torture to the individuals affected and its impact on our national character and credibility, the fact that athletes and coaches are willing to break the rules to win seems trivial.
If we can get beyond the corny red heart clichés and commercialism surrounding Valentine’s Day, there’s real value in celebrating the idea of love. Okay, love doesn’t always conquer all and it’s rarely forever, but I worry that the hearts and souls of a whole generation are being corrupted by images that mock and trivialize the beauty and sanctity of real love in blatant worship of good looks, shallow sex, and money.