The 49ers are winning again! Fair-weather fan that I am, I thought I'd listen to a game for the first time this season. I knew in my heart that I was cursing them, and sure enough, they lost.
There is so much to learn about ourselves through the medium of sports. The Dallas Cowboys are the greatest team in American football because they provide all the rest of us someone to hate. Sure, we love our team, but somehow that's not enough without someone to hate. What fun would football be if we loved all teams equally? No, when I choose my team, all the others must be excluded and demoted.
I laugh at a friend who is a dyed-in-the-wool Ohio State Buckeyes fan. You hate the Huskers, I tell him, but they hate the Bucks; why? It's completely arbitrary. The Nebraskans are no different than the Ohioans. They are the same. It's the loving and hating that is universal; only the objects are reversed.
This is, of course, precisely what Zhuangzi tells us about our opinions of what is the right way to understand the world and which are the wrong. Like a Brit walking in on a televised football game, or an American a game of cricket (all out, six wickets and five overs before tea!), he would have us oblivious to the taking of sides.
There are always good reasons for disliking the other teams, of course. The Cowboys are from Texas for chrissakes! The 49ers are owned by the mafioso. The Packers win too much. The Raiders hurt people.... But like the choice of the team itself, it simply comes down to the arbitrary choice of which sins we wish to acknowledge (or manufacture) and which we wish to ignore.
I am not admonishing anyone to stop their own sports drama. I am only suggesting that we can learn from it. Just that tiny bit of transcendence can make a world of difference. Part of the fun of the anguish and jubilation of sport becomes our enjoyment of watching ourselves being so silly.
Sometimes, when a team wins the Super Bowl, the rejoicing fans start to riot! Why? My theory is that they subconsciously realize that it is utterly empty of any real meaning. Having achieved the ultimate goal, they realize that it cannot satisfy.
For the losers, there is always next season. Hope dawns eternal. "Cling to hope / and despair will cling to you."
Perhaps the greatest joy of sport is the ability, when it is all over, even though at the moment of play it was the most important thing in the world, to walk away and not give a damn.
Not a sports fan? Oh well, I guess you’ll have to find some other way to discover your folly.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.