Let’s fight for, not against, each other

We seemed to have survived March with all it’s madness that showed up in so many varieties this year. Is it just me, or does lunacy seem particularly abundant?

Set against unending national politics, persistent winter storms and our local bickering, college basketball may be the one sane arena available. And yet they call it March Madness.

What is it about human nature that needs to compete, to race, to pit ourselves against each other in order to win?

No doubt we’ve been at it forever. Babies don’t compete, surely, but parents lean over their infants, urging teeth to spring in gummy smiles so as not to be outdone.

I remember once when I was trying to shed some post-pregnancy weight, my friend challenged me to a contest. In six weeks the one who weighed less was the winner, and the loser had to buy the other one a new outfit.

Standing in our underwear on the scale in the local gym, only one of us was the winner. Never mind that we both lost our intended pounds, or that we weighed less than a pound apart at the finish line.

Of course, the good thing about making a contest out of losing weight is that no one has to gain what you lose. Dieting is not a zero sum game.

Which is a good thing. I remember seeing a billboard once that said, “Weight Watcher members lost 40,000 pounds in Salt Lake City last year.” I always wondered who found them.

I guess on one level I reject the idea of zero sum theory in life as a whole. A well brokered peace treaty or real estate transaction or division of a fresh blackberry pie can result in everyone winning, I believe.

If you eat all the pie and I get none, won’t we both feel crummy?

I knew a woman once who had an epiphany just as her marriage was ending. She drove past a “Children at Play” sign, the wordless kind that shows two children on a teeter-totter.

“That’s how my whole marriage was,” she told me. “When I was up, he assumed he must be down. His way of rising was to bring me down.” A zero sum theory of marriage is a losing game.

I know another young couple who have gone through a rough year. They’ve turned the teeter-totter metaphor around completely — when one of them is down, feeling sad or afraid, the other one stays up to offer support and to be the placeholder for hope.

I broke free from competition the end of March and took in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s concert in Seattle. They’re celebrating its 50-year-anniversary in a nationwide tour.

Moving to New York, Alvin Ailey saw that talented African American dancers needed more opportunities to perform. In 1958, when he created his wonderful dance troupe, we all became richer.

Maybe he fought against the dance companies that were closed to people of color. If so, he didn’t stay in that game for long.

Instead, he opened a door to another arena, and through his creativity and his success he enlarged the world of American dance. Other doors opened in response.

Not that fighting is always a bad thing. It’s when we fight against each other instead of for something we believe in that we create winners and losers.

On all fronts we tend to want to see rivals if not enemies. Frank O’Hara mentions “our temporarily united passions,” in his poem, “Avenue A.” Part of our “small selves.”

When we take up sides on issues, I’m wondering what creative solutions get lost in the fracas. I wonder which wonderful people are demonized.

Maybe we ought to be even more direct in our approach to issues we can’t agree upon. Let’s try an old-fashioned tug-o-war. It probably won’t work on the presidential race – too much distance, and we’re already at the end of our rope there.

It might work on the disagreement over opening up Ericksen/Hildebrand. On the first sunny Sunday in May, let’s line up on either side of our own grassy knoll. Those for leaving it closed, grab hold of the rope on the Ericksen side, and those for opening it up, you can pull towards Hildebrand.

When we finish, the losers can treat the winners to home-baked blackberry pies, and the winners can recite poetry. And then we can move on to something else.

Eve Leonard is an island

writer and real estate agent.

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