I’ve been thinking about my high school football coach. I realize that over the years, I’ve fluctuated from thinking of him as a great coach to thinking of him as a terrible coach, depending on what’s going on in my life at the time. When things were going well and the remembrance of him popped into my mind, I would think he was a pretty good coach. Certainly his record would attest to that. He took the worst team in the division and brought them to a near perfect record (one loss in the championship game) his first year as varsity coach. When things were not going so well, I’d think he was a terrible coach and a poor leader of young men, mainly because of his relationship with me. I played for him the year before he became varsity coach on the junior varsity team. In my mind, he committed a terrible injustice against me. Because of one mistake I made, he labeled me a coward in front of my team and all the spectators in earshot of his balling me out. I was 14 years old, 130 pounds soaking wet and above average sensitive and impressionable. This happened because I failed to make an open field tackle that he thought I didn’t make because I was afraid of hitting my opponent. He was a Vince Lombardi type, and he once he concluded I was a coward, he wanted nothing more to do with me on a football field. I often think about how different my life might have been if he had handled that incident differently.
It’s funny how things look in retrospect. Today, as I think about that incident, I realize he was right; I was a coward, though not for the reasons he thought. I failed to make that tackle, not out of fear of injury or pain, but out of fear of failure and rejection and ridicule. Had he been able to recognize that, he could have given me the coaching I really needed at the time although it had nothing at all to do with football. I know now that fear of failure, ridicule and rejection are the demons that have been running my life since puberty or maybe even before that. That’s true of most of us. I’ve learned over the years that the things we really fear have nothing to do with things we fight, and protest, and vote against. What we really fear is the things that we’ve made up about ourselves. The little voice in our heads reminds us of those fears with every encounter on any significance we have, every day. It says things like “You’re not good enough, you’re not worthy enough, you’re going loose something valuable, there’s not enough out there for you”. We all are tormented by these voices every day.
Our reaction to this torment shows up in every facet of our lives. In politics, we don’t vote for what we want, but we vote against what we are most afraid of. That is why negative political ads are so effective. We structure our daily activities not so much as to be around people we love and like, as to avoid any possible contact with people we fear for one reason or another. When we encounter such people in our little bubble of daily life, we feel that our personal space is being invaded and subconsciously take measures to expel the person in question. This is how the Starbucks incident where police were called to prevent two black men from using the restroom occurred. Often what we think we know about people stems from things people we trust or admire have said about them that reinforce the constant subliminal message of that little voice. This is true for the people we like as much as for the people we hate. As much as we are tormented by that voice in our head, we desperately want the voice to be right because it has convinced us it is who we are. There are very clever people out there who have manipulated these tendencies in us to control our behavior as effectively as if we were mindless robots. At some point, when we feel negative emotions like fear, anger or hatred welling up in us against people or events that in themselves proposed no immediate threat to us, we must start asking ourselves, “what am I really afraid of in this moment?” It was not until late in my adult life that I even considered the idea that the way I see things may be a result of what a 5 or 6 year old me said to himself about some trivial incident, like mom not letting go out to play at a time I thought it was really important that I do so or my dad letting my sister get away with things that he didn’t let me get away with. I’ve learned that these are the things you must consider in those quite moments alone with yourself before you can begin to understand who you really are.
I often fantasize how different my life might have been if my old football coach had recognized what was really affecting my performance on the field and guided me to address those issues at age 14 instead of me discovering them on my own at age 45. I imagined how much more successful I could have been in my business dealings and relationships. But things happen when its time for them to happen. As a nation, we’ve come to a point were we’re being confronted with our worst fears. If we stay on autopilot, we are doomed and our fate is sealed. We won’t have to worry about Illegal immigrants anymore because no one in their right mind will want to come here and those of left here will be trying like hell to get out. [“Know your enemies well, one day you will be just like them”]. However, if we decide to challenge our conditioning, and make an effort to determine on our own what’s really true about the things and people we fear, we may possibly inherit a world more beautiful than we could ever imagine in these troubled times.