I listened to A Prairie Home Companion Saturday even and watched the Bears Sunday afternoon. 

For those of you who are not familiar with A Prairie Home Companion, it’s a two hour radio show hosted by Garrison Keilor which combines music and stories made up by Keilor and his staff of writers.  The highlight of the show is always the “news from Lake Wobegon” a fictional town which Keilor tells stories about.

Last week, Keilor was not on top of his game.  The show, in my opinion was below average.

Last week, the Bears weren’t on top of their game either.  They got beaten badly by New England.

It’s interesting.  When A Prairie Home Companion began at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, there was not an uneasy feeling in my stomach caused by whether or not Keilor would put on his best performance.  And when the show ended two hours later, I was a little disappointed but relished the stories the songs and stories that I did enjoy, and I didn’t feel emotionally down because of his mediocre performance.  In other words, I had not tied my sense of self-worth to his performance, and I certainly did not yell at the radio when one of his jokes bombed.

Now when it came to Sunday noon, I had that uneasy feeling in my gut.  I almost always get that anxious feeling when I’m watching sports on TV, because what’s at stake in my mind is not whether the Bears will play well but if they will win.  They can make more good plays than bad plays, but that doesn’t matter if they don’t win.  What makes watching sports different for me than watching a play or hearing a concert, is that I tie my feelings about myself to whether the team I’m rooting for wins or loses. 

It’s a curious thing, the way we approach sports.  Even in little league baseball, some parents—usually fathers—can get so upset by an umpire’s call or their kid’s error that they make fools of themselves by losing their control of their emotions in public.  The kid is only 11 years old, but somehow the dad’s self-worth and sense of well being is tied to whether the boy’s team wins or loses.

Many of us will do the same thing when we hear the results of the election on Wednesday morning.  We’ll cuss and swear, rant and rave or we’ll strut, give high fives and do end zone dances in front of friends who we know voted for the other guy. 

Sports and politics.  Win or lose.  Those are the only two options.  It sets us up polarization.  Like Hawk Harrelson even refers to the White Sox as the good guys and whomever they are playing as the bad guys.

I’m not criticizing those who feel bad when their candidate loses, because they are disappointed that policies which they believe will promote the common will not be implemented.  What bothers me is this tendency we have—me included—to tie our sense of well being to whether a team or a candidate wins or loses.

Doing that is problematic, first because it transfers our serenity to something which is out of our control.  And second, it promotes the demonizing of whomever is perceived as the bad guy.  I know a lot of people who are automatically against anything Pres. Obama says or does simply because he says or does it.  It goes the other way, too.  Some folks will defend him no matter what he says or does simply because he says or does it.

I’m not against being partisan.  What I dislike in myself is the tying of my sense of myself to whether a candidate or a team wins or loses.  When they win, I get too high—FOR MY OWN GOOD.  When they lose, I get too low. 

In either case, I need to make an appointment with my therapist.

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...

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