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Compassionate Basketball? That IS March Madness 8

Compassionate Basketball? That IS March Madness

About this time every year, we’re up to our foul lines with March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball tournament. Television stations are hijacked, advertisers produce basketball themed commercials, and offices are full of busted brackets. At the risk of jumping on the basketball bandwagon, I’d like to share a slightly different perspective that caused me to dribble…my coffee the other day.

As I’m sure you are well aware, the motivational self-help world has no shortage of sports metaphors for topics such as teamwork, leadership, competition, and even moral decision making (see Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, and Marion Jones). But we rarely see references to compassion. An athlete showing compassion in the heat of battle would risk letting his guard down and opening a window for his opponent to take advantage of an apparent weakness. It’s the cliche of many movie thrillers. At that moment when the hero finally understands the troubled past of the villain and reaches out to give him a hand, the villain pulls a ballpoint pen from his pocket and stabs the hero in the heart. For what it’s worth, I have yet to find a ballpoint pen that works consistently, much less one that could stab through someone’s heart without smearing. But compassion is one of the traits University of Virginia head coach Tony Bennett instills in his players.

In the spirit of full disclosure, my wife and I are graduates of the University of Virginia and both of our children are currently attending UVA. Historically, the school has excelled in many different sports, enjoying 20+ national titles. But they have struggled in basketball and football. This year, the Cavaliers’ basketball team won the ACC regular season title, the ACC tournament title and then made it to the Sweet Sixteen round in the NCAA tournament.

We were most impressed, however, with the conduct of the players. They were one of the most competitive yet respectful teams I’ve ever watched. They didn’t taunt, they didn’t brag, and they were grateful for every opportunity they experienced this season. In today’s culture, where winning and money drive many decisions, it was heartwarming to see these young men conduct themselves differently.

A few weeks ago, Coach Bennett was asked what attributes he encouraged in his players. He responded by saying, “We try to embrace passion, wisdom, and compassion.”

I must point out that these are excellent life goals even for those of us who were never that good at making layups or three-point shots. So, I’d like to unpack them and see how they might apply to our work and personal lives.

Passion.  Passion is defined as an intense desire and enthusiasm for something. Many of us are not passionate about our jobs. They’re just jobs. Yet, some of us are passionate about our work and feel called to do what we do. When we’re passionate, the work feels less like work. We get excited about our goals and the process to achieve them.

But what if we’re not passionate about our jobs? That’s when we have a choice — to stay and learn to live with it or to leave and find something more fulfilling.

If leaving is not an option, then one simple way to become more passionate about what we do is to find ways to see the larger meaning of our work. A teacher can teach information or she can shape the way her students learn. A salesman can make one more sale or he can fulfill an important need of his customers. A CEO can seek fame and fortune or she can create a work environment in which her employees want to do good work. Seeing our work as something bigger helps us find more passion for what we do.

Wisdom.  Having knowledge and then applying that knowledge is the difference between being smart and being wise. We may know a lot of things but if we don’t use what we know to better ourselves or others, it doesn’t really matter what we know. Someone once said that history repeats itself because nobody read the minutes from the last meeting. Using our knowledge, our experience, and the insights of others leads to wise decisions. And wise decisions make our personal and work lives better.

Compassion. All year long, I’ve watched the basketball players for the University of Virginia help other players up when they fell. This is not something you routinely see in a competitive sport. That simple act reflects an attitude of compassion. You can be a competitor without losing your compassion for someone as a human being. In fact, if we all had just a bit more compassion, there would be less road rage, less bullying, and less ridiculousness in the political arenas. We are all human beings thrown together in a chaotic world. We will always have differences but when we look beyond the differences, we will see similar needs — the need for love, the need for respect, and the need for dignity. Compassion helps us see those basic needs in others.

The University of Virginia basketball team fell short of a national title. But these young men, at the urging of Coach Tony Bennett, will not fall short in life. They will have their ups and downs for sure. But if they practice passion, wisdom and compassion in their life pursuits, they will always be champions.


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