Letting the River Run Dry

I used to hate Arickaree School. Really, really hate them. In the 80s, Arickaree had an incredible run in basketball and football where they beat Liberty, like, a thousand times in a row. Arickaree was Gargamel and we were a bunch of Smurfs1. I didn’t hate just the athletes, I hated the coaches, I hated the parents, I hated their school colors (green and yellow), and I hated the Yuma Pioneer for printing articles with headlines like “Osthoff Scores 112 Points on Struggling Liberty Hoopsters.”2

My Arickaree-hate continued even after I’d graduated high school. When some of my friends married, had kids, and then moved close to Cope, I actually thought they were traitors for sending their kids to Arickaree.

I remember when I finally came to my senses. I was at a Liberty School reunion and I ran into someone who’d graduated from Arickaree and I told him that I hated everyone from his school, himself included. His reply was, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I spent 10 minutes trying to explain why I could never befriend an Arickaree graduate. The more I tried to explain, the more I felt like a dope. How can you not feel like a dope when you find yourself saying things like, “I loathe you because you are associated with a school that had some good athletes in the eighties”?

The poor guy I was talking to, he calmly walked away before I’d successfully made my point. This was wise, because I didn’t have a point to make.

You see, I had mistaken a sports rivalry for real life, and those are two entirely different things. A sports rivalry is an invention designed to make games more interesting. For instance, whenever we played Arickaree, I knew we were going to lose. Everybody knew we were going to lose. But, because we considered them our rivals3, I was able to stoke the fires of indignation in my brain. As far as I was concerned, Arickaree were dirty cheaters4. I used this as extra motivation, and sometimes it translated into better performances. Okay, fine. That’s a sports rivalry.

But then I took the rivalry out of the context of gamesmanship and I dragged it into the real world. When I told the gentleman at the Liberty School reunion that I hated him, I wasn’t being true to my school or loyal or patriotic or anything of the sort. I was just being angry, and for no reason whatsoever. I wasn’t for anything, I was just against Arickaree, because it felt good to hate them. I can’t think of many things that are more pathetic than hating someone just because it feels good.

Still, it’s fun to yell and it’s fun to be angry, especially if a bunch of other people are shouting along with you. Whole segments of society operate on that principle. Entire careers, entire political movements, entire television networks, are based on this premise that, no matter what “we” may be doing, “they” are doing something worse, and so they deserve our contempt, and so that makes us superior to them. Again, this is not a big deal when you’re getting ready to watch a homecoming game, but it’s ridiculous when placed in the context of real life.

If you want a real-life example of anger masquerading as morality, go to a political website that you disagree with. Read the comments below the articles. Many of those comments are condescending, tribalistic, vitriolic nonsense. Now go to your favorite political website and read those comments. What’s the difference? Same anger, different cheerleaders.

When I watch high school sports these days, I couldn’t care less who wins. Instead, I try to enjoy that fact that I can sit in the stands and see a bunch of kids toss a ball around. I enjoy the good plays, the goofy mistakes, the odd coaching decisions, and the crunchy concession stand hamburgers. One thing I don’t want to bother with is anger, and my life is much better for it.

And, to that anonymous gentleman I confronted at the Liberty School Reunion all those years ago, I thank you for your grace in the face of my pointless hostility. I no longer hate you, sir. However, I am still jealous. But that’s a subject for another column…

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Further reading: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I don’t love this book as much today as I did when I was a kid, but it’s still fun, and goodly chunk of the final third of the book has to do with misplaced anger.

1 I’m assuming everybody on Earth knows who the Smurfs are. If do not know who the Smurfs are, consider yourself lucky.

2 This is not a real headline.

3 Anybody who beats you all the time is your rival, even if that rivalry isn’t reciprocated.

4 One example: Their basketball coach drew up this clever screen play for missed free throws, and it tricked us every time. That wasn’t cheating, it was thinking.