Rivalries bring out a lot in people. This can be easily observed in our state whenever the local college football teams play each other.
Last week, Brigham Young University’s football team played Utah State University’s, and Facebook became predictably obnoxious. There was a lot of trash talk, a lot of criticism about BYU being holier-than-thou, a lot of Aggies being called common cow-herders and a lot of plain ugliness. What is ironic is how little of the discourse surrounding the game, which BYU won on a last-minute lucky touchdown, actually involved the game.
So many sports fans define themselves not by whom they support, but by which teams they hate. We all have co-workers, neighbors, annoying cousins, grocery store clerks and possibly even spouses who we absolutely hate to talk to after a big game. Whether or not their team wins doesn’t matter, because either outcome gives them sufficient ammunition to lob at the team they hate so much.
Boston sports teams, especially, have this problem. The Red Sox, Boston’s historically tumultuous team, recently suffered through one of Major League Baseball’s worst late-season collapses ever. They missed making the playoffs by one game after the Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees on an Evan Longoria walk-off home run. Red Sox fans were, at first, shamefaced and despondent, but then they latched onto their true passion: rooting for Yankees to get knocked out of the playoffs. Almost as long as Boston’s tradition of losing (minus championships in 2004 and 2007) is Boston’s tradition of hating their pinstriped neighbors to the southwest.
These little brother-symptoms are simply signs of greater insecurities. How many of us know someone who hates to see others succeed? Do they define their own happiness and self-worth not by personal achievement, but by the failure of others around them?
This same partisan sniping can be seen in politics. If we fall on the liberal side of the line, we laugh and sneer when President George W. Bush inventricates a new word, or when Governor Rick Perry back-pedals and sweats over the racially offensive nickname of a hunting retreat (the rich have problems we could never understand). Those who choose not to veer from the conservative path want nothing more than for President Barack Obama to slip up and blow it, or for Nancy Pelosi’s face to finally implode after sucking on that lemon for the past 20 years.
The problem is that, when we root for those in positions of political power to fail based on their party affiliation, we root for bad things to happen to our country.
Religion is not immune to these problems. Religious people can be raised to shake their heads at the motivations of atheists and agnostics, ignoring the backgrounds and formative factors that would cause a person to question the existence of a God. Conversely, Hollywood trendily encourages the mocking of the highly religious as brainwashed zealots, refusing to acknowledge the good that many religious organizations spread throughout the world.
At some point, our allegiances need to lie not with our disagreements, but with our agreements. Do we define ourselves by the things we are for, or the things we’re against?