As a fan of the Nebraska Husker football team, certain things are expected of me. I’m supposed to be reverent and respectful when discussing Dr. Tom Osborne. I’m supposed to cringe when I hear Oklahoma’s Boomer Sooner music. I’m supposed to have a closet full of red logo wear for game days, and I’m supposed to hate Texas and Notre Dame. I’m good until I get to the hating part.
In fact, I like Texas and Notre Dame. Yeah, I said it and wrote it. Texas and Notre Dame have rich histories, and they both consistently field successful football teams. Even more important, both teams – like every other team in the country – have good kids on their teams – kids who are working hard to get an education so they can succeed. And, I’m supposed to hate them and cheer against them?
When I was younger, I thought that being faithful to my team meant that I had to dislike other teams, so I did. I cherished those rare moments when Oklahoma, Missouri or Colorado lost. Of course, when they lost and my team won, my team rose to the top, but it was more than that; I didn’t want anyone to be as good as my team. I resented their success.
This sort of thinking is evident in sports, but it’s as prevalent, though often more subtle, in other parts of life. We see our friends move into a larger, nicer home than we have, and we’re jealous and suspicious about how they made that happen. We read about a business competitor’s success in the newspaper, and we secretly hope that they’ll receive their comeuppance. Another athlete on our child’s team shows signs of greatness, and we suspect that his coach unfairly favors that kid. We resent success.
Why do we resent success for others? I believe we do so because humans are prone to inferiority, and we often suffer from a lack of appreciation. We are not at peace with ourselves and our accomplishments, and we don’t fully appreciate the lives that we lead. It’s not easy, but recognizing and acknowledging these weaknesses allows us to mitigate the damage they can inflict on our happiness.
Inferiority is particularly crippling, because it’s based on our feelings about ourselves. Until we change the way that we think about ourselves, it will be difficult to admire the success of others, let alone achieve success for ourselves. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Inferiority begins and ends at the individual level.
Our levels of appreciation and inferiority work conversely. As appreciation for our blessings rises, our inferiority diminishes. When appreciation is high, inferiority is low, and we feel free to celebrate the success of others.
During the recent national championship game, I wore a Husker windbreaker as I cheered for Notre Dame. Those who watched the game know that the Irish were dominated from the beginning by the much more talented Alabama team. I felt sorry for the Notre Dame football players, particularly Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker who is by all accounts a great person away from the field as well as on it. At the same time, I was happy for the Alabama players who had worked so hard to beat an undefeated team so convincingly. Since I didn’t follow Alabama throughout the year, like I had Notre Dame, I wasn’t as familiar with their players, except for Barrett Jones, who, like Te’o, was as impressive off the field as he was on it. It was hard not to admire his skills and dedication.
In the middle, often away from the camera’s focus, was an epic battle between Jones and Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix. Nix is a talented player in his own right. Many think he would have been a high pick in this year’s NFL draft, but he chose to come back to graduate in his senior season, honoring a commitment he made to his mother.
Instead of cheering against one squad or the other, like much of America was doing, I simply enjoyed watching two talented teams, whose players have exciting futures ahead of them, give everything they had in order to win the game.
Though I am not always successful, I try to apply the same approach to life. Instead of looking suspiciously at the success of others, I try to find something that I can admire and perhaps apply to my own life. I find myself more at peace, more optimistic and more successful this way.
— Mitch Arnold