A debate about a 4th-grade basketball game illustrates, on a very small scale, some of the primary cultural and political divides facing America today:
A few days before the game, Jay’s father called me. He and the other parents of his son’s team were “very, very concerned.” Even alarmed. Apparently, as the championship game neared, the boys were doing a lot trash-talking at each other. Surely we could all agree that the real reason for the competition was to teach the boys cooperation and sportsmanship. Playing the game would mean one of the teams would lose, which would lead the winning team to “bragging rights in the schoolyard.” And that would not be healthy. It would undermine the real lessons to be learned about self-esteem and mutual respect.
He dwelled on these points for a while, finally landing heavily on the notion that this was a wonderful opportunity for us, as parents, to “frame the situation as a teaching moment.” Eventually, he got to the money point: He and the other parents of Jay’s team wanted to cancel the championship game. After all, we could all agree that both teams were already winners, right?
Initially, I was nonplussed. But I heard myself saying something like, “You’re way over-complicating this. The purpose of playing the game is to win it. And by the way, the winning team has earned bragging rights.”
As it happened, the two teams fell out along socioeconomic lines. Most of the parents from the other team were professors at the nearby state university, with a couple of doctors as well. Their coach was a well-published sociologist; Jay’s father taught psychology. Our coach was a private detective with a scar on his face, a reminder of a knife fight he had had in Mexico. One of our team’s parents was a real estate broker, another a chef; one sold insurance, one was a building inspector.
What we have here are members of two very different self-selected tribes, which we might call (a)the tribe of the challengers, as its members believe that people grow by facing difficult situations–including situations in which success is not guaranteed, and (b)the tribe of the brittle, as members of this tribe tend to implicitly or explicitly believe that people are so fragile that they must be protected from setbacks that might threaten their self-esteem. And, thinking about this story, it struck me that membership in these tribes very much cuts across the usual demographic categories of race, ethnicity, income, and sex. (Although the writer says “the two teams fell out along socioeconomic lines,” I think the dominant factor here is occupation rather than income. And although he refers to “an effort to feminize young boys,” there are plenty of women whose membership is in the tribe of the challenger.)
What seems clear to me is that in any form of competition between societies–economic, military, even artistic–a society in which the tribe of the brittle plays a leading role will always lose out, in the end, to a society in which the tribe of the challengers drives the overall spirit of the society.
link via Maggie’s Farm