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Sports, Politics and Our Search for Meaning

February 19, 2018 | by Emuna Braverman

When sports and politics become a distraction from the real challenges in our lives.

After the Super Bowl there was a parade in Philadelphia for the victorious Eagles. My loyal readers know that I enjoy football and can appreciate the excitement of the fans. But I was a little taken aback by the response of one interviewee: “It’s like a dream. Every day I wake up and think maybe it is, maybe it didn’t actually happen but then I remember it’s real. I can’t believe it. I’m so excited.”

I get the thrill, the whole underdog thing, the whole back-up quarterback thing, the whole Carson Wentz/Nick Foles story (just proving my creds here). But still… this was a fulfillment of a dream?

I thought of this fan when I read an interesting thought by Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. Commenting on the current antagonistic political climate in America today, he suggested that political ideology is not the answer when everything in our life goes wrong. What did he mean and how does it connect to the Eagles’ win?

We’re all searching for meaning, for something to lift us out of ourselves, our cares, our worries, for something transcendent. If we don’t have a religious perspective or don’t appreciate that a relationship with God can offer that experience, we still need something. So we turn to politics or sports. And we invest all that desire for meaning, that desire to be lifted, that desire for something more, all that emotional energy in our political viewpoints or in cheering for our team. And when they win we are lifted, but it’s oh so brief. It doesn’t last. And when they lose, we are devastated. We have to yell at our opponents, we have to verbally (or sometimes physically) attack them. Because in that moment, our lives have just become emptier.

Sports can be fun; I’m a fan. I appreciate good playing and can get excited when a team wins. But then it’s time to move on – to life’s real efforts and challenges.

And politics can be meaningful. I believe we should vote and get involved in community activism if there’s an issue that speaks to us. It’s the level of emotion and animosity that seems to me to be displaced, to perhaps embody, as Dr. Peterson alludes, more than a frustration with politics, but a deeper dissatisfaction with our lives.

When “our team” wins we can forget about our troubles for the moment. But then reality intrudes and our problems are still there.

When our lives are out of control, when we’re frustrated at our jobs, when our teenagers refuse to listen, when our marriages are broken or our children are struggling, it’s not the fault (per Jordan Peterson) of “capitalism or the radical left”. But we’d like it to be. We’d like someone or something to blame. We’d like to know that if we only solved this or changed that, it would all work out.

But real life isn’t like that. There aren’t easy villains and easy solutions despite how much we wish there were.

When “our team” wins the Super Bowl perhaps we can forget about our troubles for the moment. We are part of something bigger that ourselves, a group of loyal fans who are all joyous and celebrating together. But then it ends and reality intrudes. And the problems and challenges are still there. And we are no closer to a solution.

And in the moment our candidate wins the election, perhaps we truly believe that life will be different. Although this is certainly more important that football, it ultimately won’t help us in the intimate areas of our lives, in the places where we really live. It won’t improve our marriages, our relationship with our children. But mostly it won’t give our lives the meaning we seek and need.

So let’s enjoy those sports events as a brief break, a chance to rejuvenate. And let’s get involved in politics as a way to take responsibility for our world.

But let’s save all that emotion for the relationships that really count – our families and our God. Let’s take all that energy and pour it into the spiritual, the one place where our individual efforts will truly be rewarded in kind.

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