Success Beyond Success

In late April, an extraordinary event happened in a women’s softball game between Central Washington and Western Oregon Universities.

In the second inning of the game, Sara Tucholsky, an outfielder for Western Oregon, smashed a ball over the center field fence for her very first career home run. In her excitement, she badly injured her knee rounding first base. She was unable to continue circling the bases.

What could Tucholsky or Western Oregon do? Could her teammates carry her around the bases? No, the umpire ruled against that option. Could her team substitute a pinch runner? Yes, but the pinch runner would have to remain at first base, and Tucholsky’s home run would become a single.

It did not look good for Tucholsky. Then, Central Washington’s first baseman and the league’s all-time home run record holder, Mallory Holtman, asked the umpire if she and her teammates could carry their opponent Tucholsky around the bases. The answer was yes, and so they did. Central Washington lost the game and, in so doing, decreased their chances of making the NCAA tournament. Holtman is a senior and has never been to the tournament.

In post game interviews, Holtman offered that she had done nothing extraordinary and that anyone would have behaved the same way. Sadly, we know that isn’t the case. In sports, cheating has been routinely tolerated; unsportsmanlike conduct is viewed as part of the game.

Clearly Holtman’s actions were not ordinary. We can imagine other players never having the impulse to be of assistance. Still others might shut down any impulse to help with thoughts like: “We really need to win this game to be in the NCAA tournament.” Or, “Her unfortunate accident is just part of the game. Nothing I can do about it.” And who would fault such players for their inaction?

In her outstanding book Soul-Kissed, Ann Linthorst tells this story of a “woman who was showing her spiritual teacher around her backyard”:

The teacher commented on the number of birds. The woman exclaimed. “Oh, I have never noticed any birds out there before. “ Her teacher replied, “Madam, you must have birds in your heart before you will find birds in your backyard.”

In other words, what allowed Holtman to act in such an inspired way, was that a higher value had already been cultivated in her heart—the value of treating another human being as she would treat herself. Eckhart Tolle has written: “The true meaning of love is to see the other as yourself.”

Linthorst’s teacher, the late Dr. Thomas Hora, offered this principle of harmonious living: “Take no thought for what should not be; seek ye first to know the good of God which already is.”

Why is this a principle of harmonious living? Hora’s principle stresses process above outcome. For example, in the softball game—instead of allowing the ego to run through its reasons why it should or should not help, prior practice of this principle orients the mind to allow harmonious choices to flow through spontaneously, even in the heat of the moment.

Holtman and her Washington State team clearly allowed a decision to flow through them—a decision that emanated from beyond their egos. In doing so, they won more than a game. They achieved what Fred Kofman has called “success beyond success.” They strengthened their future ability to allow happiness, love, and peace to flow though them.

Some cynics may view the Central Washington State players as foolish altruists. Those cynics are wrong. Recent academic research on happiness demonstrates that happiness depends very little on success in the world. Transitory events like winning a ball game have only temporary effects on happiness. In contrast, expressing higher values—values such as love and gratitude—has enormous and lasting effects on happiness.

Besides teaching us a life lesson, Central Washington may have become an even better team. For, as legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson has observed, “Love is the force that ignites the spirit and binds teams together.” No doubt, a team whose spirit is ignited and whose players are bound together will play better.

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9 Responses to Success Beyond Success

  1. E says:

    This is great. I assume, without any real data, that the reason personal values in sports gets so twisted is due to the injection of money. The higher the financial stakes, the more surprising the revelations, the more outrageous the actions, when they see the light of day.

  2. E,

    No doubt, but the interesting thing is that the studies I mentioned on happiness show that money has little to no influence on how happy an individual is.

  3. Matt Welker says:

    Money may affect Pro level athletes’ personal values and what some will do to get there, but I am sure many parents will attest to the way some act at the 4-10 year old level (I’ve seen it personally). Sportsmanship like that shown in this case is very rare. Then again, that player would have likely, literally, crawled along the bases to win and cause no further injury and I am not aware of any time limit for completing a home run trot. The outcome was inevitable, it was really how the losing team was going to deal with it, and they did something many others would not do, which is sad reflection of our society to have that view.

    -Matt Welker

  4. Matt,

    Thanks for your observations. Let’s not leave out badly behaved parents. When a young child has a values “issue” it frequently is something that they saw modeled at home.

  5. igli1969 says:

    My daughter was lucky enough to have a great coach for rec league soccer (her best friend’s dad). He stressed sportsmanship, both within the team and toward other teams. This spilled over to the parents to the point where one of the parents would sit 20 yards or so away from the field, because he didn’t feel he could control his (loud) reactions to events on the field. (This occurred *before* the league instituted parental behavior rules.)

    There are still people out there like this coach, but we generally hear only about the bad sports, a corollary to “if it bleeds, it leads.” And, I’m sad to admit, good sportsmanship is more rare now, whether from money or the relentless pressure to succeed, no matter the cost. I often say that “The supply of common sense is fixed; the population keeps growing.” Maybe this is a similar case, sadly.

  6. Jim D says:

    A story that reminds one of the good that can come from sports in an age filled with scandal and tales of winning at any price. My stepson’s old soccer coach would bring them in at the end of a game, and win or lose, ask them if they had fun–which they always did. Its a shame we can’t get adults to let go of the fantastic sums of money they make (justified or not) for just a moment to realize how amazing it is that they get to make their living playing a game they love. How many of us don’t like what we do (no matter where we are on the path to finding what we do like), and would willingly take a pay cut to do what we love?

  7. E says:

    Prof B,

    I know the studies you mentioned displayed little correlation between money and happiness (I think I’ve read similar studies). My argument is simply that when money is injected into enterprises, things get “turned up a notch” and people go to extraordinary lengths to achieve their personal objectives (coaches/players/administrators/etc). This applies to the amateur ranks. I’ve played organized sports since I was 10. The parents of children who had “rocket arms”, “lightning speed”, or “crushing home runs” acted as if they were raising the next Roger Clemens/Emmitt Smith; usually with accoutrement attitudes on winning (more of a reflection of the parent than of the child). Children pick up on this and form habits. At the collegiate level, anyone who’s ever played a sport knows how much discipline and dedication it takes — however, when it comes to the “money-making sports” (football, basketball, etc.), I’ve witnessed how it can transform people.

  8. Chris, Jim and E:

    I do appreciate your insights. Your posts help us reflect on how we are “teaching” values all the time.

    Jim, you point us towards the powerful healing emotion/value of being grateful. When gratitude is in us, we can’t help but be kind and loving.

  9. Sam says:

    Professor Brownstein:

    Excellent discussion. I agree that it tends to be instilled in children from the family environment. “In doing so, they won more than a game.” Quite true. I have been lucky enough to have witnessed several of these types of acts that showed the altruistic side of the athlete.

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