Side With What’s Right

I was never much for sports, which is not to say that I did not enjoy the idea of playing or have the urge to have fun. However, there is a saying that comes to mind. This saying was something that I heard at a young age and while I am no longer young, I still wonder why people say, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.”
That’s what counts, right?
I think of this and say to myself, “Sure. Now, go tell this to someone who is always picked last.”
See how they feel about this.

I say this because it is how you play the game. It does matter if you win or lose. It certainly matters if you’re on a team and you can’t throw a ball or make a jump shot.
It matters if you can’t keep up or if you’re too slow. And this applies to more than sports.
There are teams at work. There are cliques and social clusters and groups where looks, finances and influence is everything.
And who do you want on your team? A star?
Do you want a person on your team who creates a hiccup on your production line?
Do you want a person who is slow or makes too many mistakes?

With this being said, I regard a young hero from my childhood named Doug. Doug was physically challenged with Cerebral Palsy. He could hardly walk, let alone run. 
Doug had obvious challenges but still, nothing could stop Doug from playing the game. To him, the fact that he could push himself to try or move or to play at all, this was winning.
I think of Miles Taylor who also lives with Cerebral Palsy and none of his physical challenges prevented Miles from deadlifting 200lbs. 
Of course, anyone with a heart or conscience would see this and be inspired or see this as heroic. 
Of course this needs to be noted as heroic and yet, we fail to note our own heroism. We fail to see the challenge it takes to get up in the morning or to face the day when sometimes it’s hard enough to face your own reflection in the mirror.
It is true when people say, “You really have no idea what someone else is going through. So, just be kind!”

In a world where people either perform or they are outperformed, there is a clear distinction between winning and losing. There are the obvious judgments of success by name or success by nature. Yet, there are people who are quiet and below-level. They fly under the radar, undetectable, unseen and unnoticed, or perhaps they fly this way because there is in fact a pecking order. Or, maybe someone sold them a bill of goods that suggests they’re not good enough to play with the others.
Don’t believe me?
Look around. Look at your environment. Notice the people who are celebrated and then look at the people who are unnoticed.
Why is this?
Notice our loyalties and then notice our disloyalty and connect this with our inventory. Why do we support some people through their challenges yet we are not supportive of others.

I always wished that I was better at sports. Maybe then I would have been able to enjoy the games more. Maybe I’d have enjoyed playing catch if I wasn’t so worried about dropping the ball. Or, maybe I’d have learned to be better. Maybe I’d have practiced more if I learned how to celebrate my efforts instead of listening to the bullies in the crowd.  What I’m really saying when I say that I wished I was better at sport is this: I wish I believed I was more worthy and desirable.
This is a common translation. This is also a self-propelled assumption which is connected by the tissue of my emotional attachments to my past and past rejections.

I listen to people who discuss their versions of diversity, equity and inclusion. I listen to people talk about who fits the corporate mold or who is qualified and who isn’t. I listen to this and I notice their regard for education or “name recognition” through either nepotism or some socio geographical connection.
I listen and I think of people who do not share the same name recognition and their chances to achieve and succeed are muted by a dissimilarity.

I think of a girl who I used to see when she would come to visit her Father at work. She was young and hopeful and she was uncomfortable with her appearance. She was uncomfortable with her weight. She was uncomfortable with her friends because at some point; someone convinced her that she was less-than beautiful.

I listened to her speak about herself with a broken heart to which I offered the only suggestion that made sense at the time.
I offered the idea that “No matter how beautiful someone is on the outside, if they are ugly on the inside then they can only be average at best.”
“And you? You couldn’t be average if you tried.”
She used to call me Uncle Benny.
Of all the gifts I have received in my life, none could ever match the honor of this young woman when she looked at me, partly smiling and partly teary-eyed, and said, “Thanks Uncle Benny!”
No… it is me who thanks her.
I say this because this is not about me whatsoever. No, I say this because there was a moment in this crazy life where I had the opportunity to help build a person instead of watching other people tear her down.

I go back to people like Miles Taylor or Doug. I think about their version regarding the games of life. I think about the people who help pull them up instead of put them down. I think about the ability of a team and a team’s incentive. I think about the ability of self-help groups and their abilities to succeed and promote achievement. I think about success and how success becomes achievable when we are supported instead of berated.

I connect this to the last time I played an organized sport, which I grant you was a long, long time ago. I was in the sixth grade to be exact. I was short. I was skinny. I could hardly pass or dribble the ball but there was a desire to play basketball. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to enjoy the game but instead, I was bullied. I was laughed at. I was picked on.

In fact, my very first night at my very first practice, we lined up to shoot layups. I never shot a layup before. For the record, a layup in basketball (for those who don’t know) is a shot that is close to the basket and usually off the backboard.

It was my turn to watch the others dribble the ball and then run up to the basket, leap up and toss the ball against the backboard and into the basket. Not everyone hit their shot, which was fine. However, the line moved in a loop.
The players ran up and took a shot and then went to the end of the line. And me, I was at the end of the line. I was excited to try. I was excited to play. Most of the kids already knew each other; and yes, it was uncomfortable to be unknown – but I was fine with this because we were about to play a game together. And it’s not if we win or lose, right?
It’s how we play the game, right?

One by one, each player ran up and took their shot before me.
I was excited.
I was ready to play.
I was ready to enjoy myself and have “fun” because it’s not if you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.
Isn’t that what counts?

Finally, it was my turn. I took the ball and dribbled my way (perhaps a little awkwardly) running up to the basket. I approached and leapt in the air to the best of my ability and then I released the ball. 
Unfortunately, I did not time my release properly. I shot the ball up, which hit the bottom edge of the backboard, which caused the ball to ricochet back down and smash me right in the face.  And yes, this hurt. Yes, the pain was bad. But guess what hurts worse?

I can remember the sound of laughter from every kid on the team.
It’s not if you win or lose, right?
It’s how you play the game . . .
I’d love to believe this but I have seen data that proves otherwise.

I look at people who go unnurtured and unsupported. I see people who fail themselves and I notice their team. I notice their friends. I notice their coworkers. And I notice the cancerous response of slander or jokes at their expense. 
I think about people who work together; yet, the term togetherness is a farce because there is no togetherness when slander takes hold at the water coolers and the gossip factories. 

I think of how people trade or double cross one another. I think of women who fought for decades to earn their place at the corporate table and I have seen power and selfishness promote treason and betrayal to other women who look to advance. Meanwhile, the person who is often betrayed is a person who is jumping the same hurdles and leaping through the same hoops. 

There are few people in this world who are able to overcome adversity on their own. More often, we are made up of a society that is living with struggles and challenges. However, in this life we have the ability to do something heroic for each other. We have the option to support someone when they lack the ability to stand on their own two feet. We can coach. We can cheer. We can promote.
We can love. We can listen.. We can applaud.
We can teach and we can learn from one another.
We can defend one another. We can be friends with each other.
We can care. We can ensure that together, we can rise to the occasion and surpass our limitations.
Most of all, we can encourage and empower because this is how we improve together!

I have this memory of a time when the school called home about a student who was being bullied. I wasn’t the bully but I was there. This meant that I was in trouble too because I was in the company of the bully – and not the bullied. 
The Old Man asked me about this. He was angry. I told my Father, “But it wasn’t me, Pop. I didn’t say anything.”
The Old Man told me, “And that’s why you’re in trouble!”
I knew what happened was wrong. I knew what it felt like to be picked on and laughed at.
I knew I didn’t like it when this happened to me. Yet, I said nothing and I did nothing. In full disclosure, I laughed along with the rest of the crowd.

This was decades ago . . .
However, as long ago as this was, I can still see the expression on the boy’s face when a group of kids were picking on him.

I see the need for a change in the way we support each other. I see the need to call out those who claim their diversity and inclusion skills yet they forget the hoops they had to leap through themselves.
I call myself out because there are times when I’ve rolled my eyes or listened too much at the water coolers. I admit that I have done this when in fact, all of this is no different from being a trader to a fellow person in this world.

Promotion, encouragement and empowerment; this is how people grow and improve.
Anything else is just a degradation of them . . .
and us!

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