We must learn to choose and participate in political and economic groups far differently than how we choose and participate in playing games and being fans of sports teams. It is more than fine to use emotion, friends and family connections and geography to select which teams we support. And how fervently we do so. It is not okay–short-sighted and dangerous in fact–to use the same process with politics, economics and key issues of the day, e.g., tax philosophy, abortion, immigration, healthcare and so much more. But that’s exactly what we do. Fun and games are one thing, but when we choose to stand up for or rail against things that can change our lives, our communities and the world, we need a dramatically different process. Carefully considered results, pertinent facts and non agenda-driven logic must rule the day here. And nothing else. But that’s not what we do. We allow emotions, geography, family history and philosophy and cliches masquerading as logic to steer our choices and passions.
Some background. There are many time-honored ways of choosing up sides prior to playing games. In my sandlot baseball days as a boy, we would choose two boys to pick teams, initiated with an arcane and often controversial method that the two would use to decide who got to pick first. It was a touch complicated, combining both skill and a bit of luck, allowing the winner to walk away happy, and the loser to have something to grouse about. Teams were chosen with each side alternating until everyone had been selected. The choosers picked guys they liked, ones they thought could play well, and ones they thought might make for agreeable teammates. They also looked for boys who acted like they wanted to be on their team.
I would walk out the back door of my home, across our driveway, and step onto deep left field. (Well, it seemed deep to me at the time.) On my right was a copse of trees which were out-of-bounds. The out-of-bounds on the other side was always a matter of, well, discussion. Home plate was a rock, the base paths were worn areas in the straw-like grass, with the bases being longer worn areas. The pitcher stood far enough away that the batting team did not object to the distance and began throwing. Since there were never enough players for the fielding team to provide a catcher, someone from the home team had to fill in. And you can imagine the disagreements when there was a failed play at home, and the “catcher” failed to get the runner out.
Lots of things were loosey-goosey–but we took the play and the score quite seriously. The team you were chosen to be on was not only the better squad, but the other guys were “bums.” Outs were fiercely contested, runs celebrated loudly. We were the good guys, the other team were the bad guys. For both teams.
We would often play one game before lunch, return home to gulp down whatever Mom had prepared, and run back out to play. The selection process was repeated with some boys returning and others showing up. This would produce different teams for the afternoon, and we’d have at it. Different boys on different teams, different arguments, different celebrations–but both afternoon teams were just as certain about who the good guys and bad guys as were the morning teams. Post game, it was common that we’d break into semi-random groups with some boys heading to a home to enjoy sodas and snacks, others being driven to one of the two neighborhood swimming pools, and others being taken out for ice cream. Players who just previously had been competing on different–often angrily competitive–teams were friends–laughing, playing and being a handful. Accusations of alleged cheating or barbs about “stupid play” were completely forgotten. Never to be remembered.
Astonishingly, we use the same choosing up sides approach in the world of politics and finance, and life changing decision from abortion and capital punishment and legalizing drugs. We choose up sides based on unimportant and often shaky reasoning and untested facts. Instant loyalties are created. And then we go at each other. And we have all seen many cases where people switch to the opposite side for emotional or personal reasons, and are just as fervent defending that position as they once were attacking it. Like kids playing baseball in an open field. But unlike the kids, we don’t get over anything after the shouting is finished for the moment. Cliches still ring out, the other side are still “bums” (or worse), and we fester and fume until we can have at the “bad guys” again.
We must choose up sides in the political and economic world far differently than in the sandlot world. At the same time we must learn to forget grievances, insults and unfairness in the same way that the sandlot crowd does quite naturally.
None of this is easy. But it is well worth it; let’s do this together.
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.