Kindness & Trust

On Saturday afternoon we went to a college basketball game between our home team, the University of Oregon Ducks, and the Washington State University Cougars. Ducks games here are a family affair, and I enjoy the people watching. With so many small children in the audience, a kind vibe permeates. Roaming video cameras catch kids being cute and put their picture up on the big board where they are thrilled to see themselves, and the rest of us are charmed at the simplicity of their joy. Everywhere you look there’s something fun going on. It’s a three ring circus with cheerleaders, the Duck mascot miming like a Disney character, musicians and athletes. 

My partner and I grab a big bag of caramel corn and a box of M&Ms on the way to our seats. People in line for snacks are cheerful and buoyant as the room swarms with pre-game rituals. Mardi Gras beads with blinking lights were passed out at the doors. Before the game starts, the ceiling lights are dimmed so we can marvel at a galaxy of 10,000 people twinkling in the dark. Being together felt safe and happy. Amid the world’s bleak cacophony, our trust sparkled. 

There’s a 40-piece brass band in the bleachers playing classic hits that invite a singalong. The big gold horns of their tubas, trumpets, saxophones and trombones shimmer as they dance underscoring peak moments in the game. Beside them a DJ with turntables mixes rap and hip-hop, adlibbing electronic commentary. All of us are in a big bowl facing each other. We see ourselves human-to-human, a wildly diverse mix sharing physical space and emotional energy. For a couple hours it was a Kumbaya moment of harmonized yelling. 

Trust is what holds us together. The roar of 10,000 voices was sonic glue. Mental notes were taken on how fierce that same sound might be if the crowd was hostile. But we are playing by the rules of sportsmanship. Rules made to ensure fairness to winners and losers. Our adversary is not our enemy. We want to win the game, but we do not want to destroy the competition because we want the competition to continue another day. We know competition sharpens our skills, accelerates our thinking and tests our aptitude for success. We know we need competition to improve our game. We need teams and tribes to organize ourselves for practice. We need this. Play conditions us for competition. This is training for the game of life. The exhilaration improves our biology. We are healthier when we play. We were meant for this.

A Nickelodeon-style kid game gets our attention. Two ten-ish fans sprint from one end of the court, race to a pair of basketball shorts on the floor and pull them on over their own pants. Then they each run to a basketball tank top and pull it on over their own shirt. Then they run to a pair of basketball shoes so big they can step into them with their own shoes. Then they run to pick up their basketball. Then wearing that big saggy basketball uniform they reverse direction and clomp in those giant shoes back down the court and shoot a basket. The end. A generous ovation and they feel famous now. They have a feeling of belonging. It reminded me of sack races at the country fair. Part obstacle course, part cosplay with thousands of people cheering them on. 

The afternoon was an exhilarating communion. I have a dark closet in my head filled with negative assumptions from doom scrolling. The Ducks game is an affirmation of faith in my community — all ages, all races, all genders sitting side-by-side sharing a common interest. My lizard brain is soothed. Of course, I can witness the same kind of unity watching sports on TV, but this is personal. I feel it with my own body surrounded by real people collaborating to have a good experience together. We’re not seeing each other on a screen. We are not anonymous. We are physically present, shoulder to shoulder. I see you. For a few hours on a Saturday afternoon we all choose to be in the same boat. We know just enough about each other to make it comfortable. Kindness and trust keep us safe. We signal our commitment with our behavior. Because being together is the goal. Let’s not lose sight of it. 

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