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.