“That was a travel!” I screamed at the ref. A year ago I couldn’t have even told you what “a travel” was, let alone pick one out of a fast-paced basketball game. But there I was, screaming it with certainty as the final seconds of a basketball game ticked away. Searching for a way to avoid the loss at-hand, I leaned over to the person next to me and questioned the integrity of a kid on the other team: “How old is that kid? I’d like to see a birth certificate.” I was acting like a jerk. A true fan? Yes. But mostly a jerk.
If you have an ounce of passion for a sport, you’re probably a jerk occasionally too. But you don’t have to be. I’ve got a simple experiment for you to try. It comes with the guarantee that anyone who tries it will be a little more human and a lot less jerk.
Here’s the experiment:
Whether you’re the athlete or the fan, it doesn’t matter. Just do this: Watch your opponents intently enough to find one genuine compliment to give to another individual. Then, give it. After the game is over, win or lose, walk up to another human being, look them in the eye and tell them what you admired about their performance. That’s it. You won’t believe what happens.
My son and I did this last year during his basketball season because we made a bet. I’m, of course, raising the next LeBron, and as his basketball got more competitive, we all started acting like bigger jerks. We’d demonize certain teams, criticize coaching styles, yell a little louder and generally just act like jerks, especially about losing. I felt uncomfortable with it. I am a pastor after all. So on a parenting whim, hoping to stop the trend, I made a bet with my son. The bet was that we both had to compliment an opposing coach or player at every single game for the rest of the season and, if we didn’t, we had to buy the other person an ice cream. We had the built-in accountability of watching each other stand up, walk over and do it after every game. The result was unbelievable. It changed how I watched games. It changed my son’s attitude toward opposing teams. It made us both less of a jerk.
Try this now and believe me later. I guarantee it will make you less of a jerk too.
There’s a 100% guarantee on this one: 100% of the time this will make you more human and less jerk. It’s because of the truth underneath it. Sorry to get all pastor-ly on you, but whether you believe the Bible or follow Jesus, this truth will prove itself to you just like it did to me. Try our little experiment and see if you don’t see the importance of what’s written about Jesus in Philippians 2:3–9 after it’s over.
“…Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position … Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor…”
When we imitate Jesus, we start to change from the inside, out. One way to do that is to “take an interest in others,” be humble and always be “thinking of others as better than yourselves.” This is the reason my bet paid off. It accidentally put us in the low place. We had to watch the game to find the good in someone else instead of staying focused on ourselves. We had to swallow our pride (especially in a loss) and practice relating to another human being from a posture of humility. When I walked away from games I felt a strange new sense of honor. I knew it also reflected well on our entire team. If a whole team did this (whaaaa?!), they’d certainly develop an excellent, honorable reputation. I could feel that the first time I did it.
There were absolutely games I struggled to follow through. Sometimes it was because the other team honestly sucked. Sometimes it was because my pride was upset by a narrow loss. Sometimes I did it just because I didn’t want to buy my kid an ice cream cone after he’d already had dessert. But I found that if I looked hard enough, an authentic word could always be found. And when I forced the words out of my mouth, I somehow became a little more human. It caused an actual, human exchange of words and emotions. Many times I got looks of amazement as I delivered honest, genuine, face to face encouragement (especially to someone who’d just beat us). It immediately broke through division. Suddenly we were all just people at a basketball game, learning to be human. Not only were we less jerky at the end of the season, I think people who received our compliments were too.
Whether you’re a reluctant jerk like me or pride yourself on being an @$$!*#e, try my little experiment. Make it a bet with a friend, coach, spouse or kid for accountability. If you’re not into sports, that’s fine: try it after your next meeting, family dinner or group project. I guarantee you’ll be a little more human and a little less jerk.