Winners and losers
I appreciate Mark Pratt-Russum’s “The Hope for Collaboration over Competition” (FJ May) on many different levels: the eddies that we create in the steam of life, culture, and social norms—a stream that often feels like a deluge these days—when we hold space for others. Also, I’m increasingly aware that when we are not intentional about creating these spaces for reflection and dreaming new ways of being within our busyness, we tend to default in less thoughtful ways to the systems and language of power and privilege, White supremacy, and settler-colonialism. The work of dismantling these systems requires the quality of space he describes and a movement toward a worldview that is fundamentally relational, as opposed to individualistic, egocentric, and competitive.
There are many situations in which collaboration can be a life-enhancing alternative to the competition that our culture sometimes overemphasizes.
At the same time, I would be sorry to see the distinctive vision of young (and older) artists disrespected. Such vision is vital to everyone’s spiritual nourishment, and should not be slighted in Quakers’ emphasis on community.
George Fox, John Woolman, Howard Brinton, and many others need to be honored as the visionaries they are, whose writings can bring all of us closer to God.
Santa Monica, Calif.
I think the challenge is to define for ourselves whether or not we are a winner. Each of us is unique with gifts we can choose to share: whether we can sing, kick a soccer ball, hit a baseball, solve a multivariable equation, or ride a horse. None of these are important unless we make them so. I was asked not to sing growing up as my voice was changing and not controllable and what I learned was that it was okay to be different and participate as my gifts allowed. Wearing glasses and not having adequate hand–eye coordination limited my success in team sports, but I could excel in track. Perhaps the larger culture has established benchmarks for winners, but we don’t have to accept them. I know in my heart I’m a winner, and it is validated every day by my family and friends and Friends.
The zone of sports—and a gathered meeting
I grew up playing sports and was fortunate enough to have coaches who taught me to love winning instead of hating to lose (“How I Found God in Competitive Sports” by Jon Watts, FJ May). As a collegiate volleyball player and swimmer, I learned both teamwork and individual perseverance. One thing that Watts inferred but didn’t elaborate on is “the zone”—that all too brief moment when mind, body, and spirit converge in perfect harmony. It’s often described as time slowing down and the ability to see not only where people are but where they are moving to. The first time I experienced the zone I was completely in the present moment; when I realized what I was experiencing—poof it was gone!
I have also been blessed to experience this in meeting for worship. The gathered meeting is an experience that brings us together in a mystical way.
Thoughts on competition
What a wonderful article by Mary Jo Klingel (“The Invisible Damage of Competition,” FJ May). The story about the man whose teacher told him that he could stand up with the other kids, but instructed, “Please do not sing. Just mouth the words,” resonated with me. My father was reluctant to sing and was put in front of the class and told to sing by himself. He refused and was left with a lifelong lack of connection to music.
There was no music in my house growing up, only getting exposed in high school through my mother’s watching the Great Music from Chicago television series featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. My parents were both interested in literature, and my mother in art, so the artistic side was not missing for me, but I think it was blunted. Thoughtless acts can reach across through time; we all need to be very mindful of the impact of things we say or do.
I consider myself a joyful embracer of competition, although I acknowledge it can have a dark side.
As a researcher and admirer of modern representative democracy, I’m aware that competitive sport is in many ways a foundation for a culture of democratic values. The experience and learning of how to “lose gracefully” is an important lesson we all need to receive.
I consider myself very competitive, and yet know experientially “that all of life is sacred, that we are all children of the Light, that we are all gifted.” What does love require of us? Personally, I believe it requires of us to compete (where necessary or appropriate) joyfully, fairly, and peacefully.
The reality is that for 99 percent of the time humans have lived on the earth, human relationships were built around cooperation and sharing rather than competition. These cultures also lacked warfare.
During my years teaching anthropology and peace and conflict studies, I have been struck at the strong resistance to rethinking cultural assumptions that view human nature as inherently violent, warlike, and competitive. As Kenneth Boulding said, “If something exists, it must be possible.”
The release of laughter
Humor is a release; it is also a vague form of testimony (“Laughing for the Wary” by Howard R. Macy, FJ Apr.). I love the crazy chase scenes in The Blues Brothers, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, _and _The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming They are totally fantasy, but they release us from our everyday lives without hurting us—except if we fall out our chairs from laughing.
Abraham Maslow distinguished between a “hostile” sense of humor and a “philosophical” one in describing what he termed as a self-actualized person. This has long spoken to my condition.
Elizabeth J. Koopman
Quaker jokes and humor
At the end of April’s “Among Friends” column, Friends Journal’s executive director, Gabriel Ehri, invited readers to send in their favorite “corny Quaker jokes.” We include one along with readers’ thoughts on Quaker humor. —Eds.
A bold young woman approached a weighty Friend and abruptly asked, “John, where was thee when they crucified my Lord?” The question stunned him, and she quickly answered for him: “Thee was in a committee meeting in Jerusalem attempting to abolish capital punishment!”
I believe humor, especially the self-deprecating kind, is a wonderful antidote to spiritual pride (April FJ issue on “Humor in Religion”). Rabbi Rami Shapiro says it is very healthy to be able to laugh at your own spiritual beliefs. To that end, I offer this:
Quakers say, “There is that of God in everyone.” I say, “God is really good at camouflaging.”
Of course Quakers can be fun and funny! You only have to look across the Atlantic where there is a sort of tradition of Quaker comedians and comedy actors.
There was Donald Swann, who was one half of Flanders and Swann, a singing comedy act in the 1950s and ’60s; Gerard Hoffnung, cartoonist and raconteur; Paul Eddington, star of Yes Minister and The Good Life; and Victoria Wood, who had her own comedy sketch show. Actors Sheila Hancock and Judi Dench have also appeared on sitcoms.
Many people are under the impression that anything religious will naturally lack humor. An eye-opening book for me on the subject was The Humor of Christ, a bold challenge to the traditional stereotype of a somber, gloomy Christ by Quaker author and teacher Elton Trueblood, published in 1964.
He first became aware of humor in the Bible when his young son started laughing during a family devotional reading of Matthew 7, “because he saw how preposterous it would be for a man to be so deeply concerned about a speck in another’s eye, that he was unconscious of the fact that his own eye had a beam in it.” After a closer study Trueblood identified 30 humorous passages in the synoptic Gospels.