Roughly six months ago I was having dinner with friends and discussing politics, and a mate of mine made an observation in response to some of my own thoughts about the rise of political far-right. Politics isn’t football.
I live in Victoria, Australia. We have rugby and soccer like most other countries, but we also have our own form of football: Aussie rules. I like Aussie rules football, it’s a great game. I enjoyed playing it at school, and I still enjoy a kick of the footy with friends. I don’t necessarily always like the culture that goes with it though.
I understand that for many people, that statement is tantamount to blasphemy. A significant percentage of men and women in this country live and breathe football. That is, they don’t merely appreciate the game, but rather they are totally consumed by it. Football fans of all ages often get quite obsessed with their team, and allow their emotions to be controlled by the results of the latest game. That is, grown men (and women) get angry and upset when their team loses, and can even sulk for days (or weeks) after a loss. Grown men and women scream obscenities at the players (on both sides), umpires and supporters of other teams. And of course, excessive alcohol consumption only makes this worse.
All forms of football are quite physical, and by very nature players come into physical contact with other players. Whilst players accept this, it is common for it to be taken too far, contact becomes excessive, and those on the receiving end resort to knee-jerk reactions, and brawls are the result. Fortunately, Aussie rules football fans don’t generally riot, as do soccer fans worldwide (or Ice Hockey fans in the US). So perhaps then, in this respect they are relatively restraint.
Anyways, the point is that sports fans often allow their emotions to be controlled by events that are completely beyond their control. A victory brings on a euphoric high, and a loss brings a gut-wrenching low. Whilst I admire the skill, fitness and intelligence required to play the game well, football players themselves sometimes get overtaken by an inflated image of themselves, or take on an overtly harsh personality as a result. It is good to be strong, but power and strength can have both positive and negative manifestation.
All this being so, this is not what this article is about. Rather, the reason I am writing this article is to show that life is not like football. Most football fans choose a football team to support, and then they give themselves over completely to that team. They become one-eyed, they develop narrow vision (or tunnel vision). They support their team regardless of what happens, and they consider other teams to be their enemies. They write a blank cheque to their team, and will honor it no matter what. There are of course many people that might take a more sensible, moderate approach to football. Such people may enjoy the game with a smile regardless of the outcome, appreciate and respect players of various teams, and recognize the relative strengths and weaknesses of all teams (including their own). Likewise, not all players (and other people closely associated with the game) make football part of their artificial identity – their ego. So, when I talk about football culture and the ego, I don’t mean to say that everyone who plays or enjoys the game is the same. However, the fact remains that football culture is saturated by ego.
Many people that are passionate about religion and politics display similar tendencies and behaviour to that of hardcore, one-eyed football fans. That is, many people (particularly those we would term conservatives), approach religion, politics, national identity and so forth as if they were football. That is, they choose a team (for whatever reason), and they write a blank check to their team to do anything, and they will always take their side.
But life isn’t football.
At least, it isn’t like how many people view football. Complex and important topics naturally demand a more complex, nuanced approach. Questions of how we view life as a whole, how one chooses to live, how you choose to treat others, how you sort through the myriad of competing views about the nature of humanity and the cosmos, and how best should a nation govern and regulate behaviour, resources and finances, naturally demand a sensible, objective and well-considered approach.
Complex subjects frequently demand that we weigh up opposing interests and find a sensible middle-ground. It is true that – as my brother David frequently says -, “Truth isn’t necessarily always found halfway between two opposing views”. That is, there are some areas of debate in which one side may be completely correct, and the other completely wrong. However, whilst truth isn’t always found somewhere in the middle between polar opposites, it often is! That is, most commonly, in most areas of division and dichotomy, a reasonable and informed opinion finds itself flanked on all sides by more extreme, unbalanced views.
Those that simply choose a team and identify with it may feel a sense of inflated ego as a result. That is, they feel superior because they believe they are on the right team. They feel justified when they demonize those that differ from themselves. They overlook the flaws of their own team, and refuse to acknowledge the strengths of their opponents. They are however holding on to a false sense of self, and they refuse to see the whole as it is. If you place your happiness upon the foundation of a false identity, it has a precarious existence. You will feel threatened by any challenge, as if your own being was at stake, and will react emotionally, without balance and depth.
From where I am standing, the commentary given by people that treat politics and religion like football has little value, as sorting out the half-truths from their bias is often so difficult, you are better off to start from scratch. It is necessary for reasonable and intelligent people to sort through the maze of opinions out there and offer a true alternative. We must however be careful not to be drawn into reactivity to the ego in others. That is, it is often hard not to react in kind towards inflammatory remarks made by others. We must have the courage to face up to what is not true, whilst holding in our hearts what is true.