Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Madness to Win

(Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono)

March Madness made me think a little about my own history with B-ball.
And how it ended up shaping my view of competition.
When I was in high school I was addicted to the game. I practiced three-four hours every day of the summer, sometimes shooting 2000 or more shots in a day. If I missed a day I’d practice six hours-eight hours the next. Nearly every night during those four years I slept with my basketball so that I’d be holding it eight hours a day more than my competitors.  (I should mention that I was never a great player, but our team did manage to win two state championships.)
When I got to college I asked a girl I really liked out on a date. After our meal, I wanted to impress her (hey, I’m a guy!) so I told her all about high school basketball, how hard I’d worked, how much I’d improved, and finally she said, “Steve, can I ask you a question?”
“What was your god in high school?”
The question floored me and was one of the biggest kicks-in-the-butt that led me to eventually become a Christian.
And that’s where the trouble began, because I liked to win and I was willing to work harder than anyone else to do it. But I also realized how easily  basketball could become my god. 
Then, when I really began to study the teachings of Jesus and the authors of the New Testament, I realized that humility mattered more to God than victory. One day it  struck me that all competition has, at its core, self-promotion. After all, the only way for me to win is for you to lose. That means I am honored and you are not.
I was forced to ask myself, “How can I love, serve and honor someone (above myself), while I’m wholeheartedly trying to defeat him?”
Chrysostom, one of the early Church Fathers, said that the cause of all evils was ambition. The New Testament reiterates this idea: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3).
Think about it this way. A person from the other team misses the shot that could win the game for him, and my team and my fans cheer. That other player already feels bad, how is cheering over his  failure a way of serving him or valuing him above myself?
Yes, I still play hoops, still love the game, but that question always sticks in my mind. And sorting out where the quest for excellence ends and selfish ambition begins is still just as hard for me as ever.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

Recently I was at a seminar on social media by a man who has 40,000 Twitter followers. He told us the story of how he was having trouble with his cable connection and sent out a tweet complaining about it. The next day Comcast’s truck was at his doorstep and they laid brand new cable for his entire block!
Now, that's certainly impressive, but it got me thinking—is there any other form of mass communication that you could send out a complaint like that to 40,000 people and it not be narcissistic?
In other words, imagine walking up to 40,000 people at a time and complaining to them about the speed of your cable connection, or sending out 40,000 letters or emails, or an announcement on the radio or television to 40,000 people that your cable connection was slow. How does it benefit 40,000 people to hear that you’re annoyed at the speed of your computer’s cable connection?
Pascal, a 17th century philosopher and mathematician, wrote, “We do not content ourselves with the life we have in ourselves; we desire to live an imaginary life in the minds of others, and for this purpose we endeavor to shine."
Facebook and Twitter give us the chance to do that: to constantly insert ourselves into other people’s minds with the trivialities or our own lives. So, here are a few questions I’ve been asking myself lately about my facebook posts:
  • Am I using this post to get what I want, to maintain a certain image or identity, or to bring other people a better life? Who benefits from this?
  • If I were to give up this aspect of social media, would I feel that something important is missing from my life? I heard about a study of college students in which they had to give up social media and networking for a week and after three days one girl needed to see a therapist. “I feel like people might have forgotten about me,” she said. She needed to know that she was living in other people’s minds.
  • If no on “likes” or comments on one of my status updates, photos, blog entries, etc.… do I feel overlooked, hurt or slighted? Honestly, sometimes I do. And when I do, I can’t help but think of Pascal’s words once again.
What do you think? Is it (or isn't it) self-centered to inform 40,000 people that your cable connection is annoyingly slow?
(Computer keyboard image compliments of