by Joanie Butman
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens wasn’t describing children’s sports, but he certainly could have been. Some of my fondest memories were born over a decade of standing on the sidelines. I’ve also witnessed a fair share of moments I will be glad to leave behind now that my tenure is nearing completion. You know the kind. When an otherwise normal individual sets aside all manner of civility for the duration of the game thinking it is acceptable in that forum.
We all have spectator personas, and there must be some unspoken rule of engagement that transforms ordinarily affable people into raving lunatics and those who already suffer from that malady the leeway to step it up a notch. Without a doubt, sideline behavior is a study in psychology. Whenever I’m tempted to think I’ve seen it all, something else happens on the sidelines to trigger a jaw-dropping response. This week was no exception.
A parent known for his loud and often coarse comments took it to a new level by directing a particularly offensive remark to a mother from the opposing team. Our team mom, a woman I’ve known and admired for years, approached the victim of the verbal assault, acknowledged the man’s shameful behavior and offered her sincere apology on behalf of the school. “That’s not who we are,” was her message, and I couldn’t have been more proud.
I didn’t hear the man make the remark, only her apology. It made me wonder, though, if I had witnessed the exchange, would I have chosen to speak up as a representative of our school. I would have been just as horrified, but would I recognize the need for intervention? Would I choose to act with the grace of this woman to protect the dignity and reputation of our school? Sadly, I don’t think so. At least I haven’t in the past, but I will now because she taught me a valuable lesson. We have no control over how others choose to behave, but we can choose to be louder in soft-spoken kindness and poise. Too often it is the boisterous behavior of the minority that tarnishes the reputation of the group as a whole in any venue, from athletics to politics to religion.
This episode reminded me of the importance of being an ambassador. We’re all ambassadors of something – our family, our school, our church, the organization for which we work. Like it or not, our behavior (for better or worse) reflects our beliefs, values and those of the groups with whom we align ourselves. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. For that reason our choice of school, organization, business, or church is important in that you want to ensure that you share core principles.
In sports, every team definitely has a personality – usually fostered by the coach. Some are known for their physicality, some are just thugs, some show class while others a lack thereof. Maintaining the integrity of any team is an important role of fellowship. When a member chooses to behave in a way that doesn’t reflect the proper character, it is important for the coaches and teammates to hold him or her accountable. This principle is true within any association, and I learned it at a young age.
“We don’t do that in our family,” was an admonition frequently heard in our house growing up. Whenever I got in trouble as a child, it was always a double whammy. First, because of the offense; second, because I had failed miserably as a representative of our family. I was an embarrassment. It wasn’t a ‘maintaining appearances’ issue. It was the fact that my behavior did not reflect the values and beliefs my parents thought they had instilled. Now that I am a parent, I have a better understanding and appreciation of that concept. I can’t deny a certain element of the ‘maintaining appearances’ though, as I have often expressed my parenting goal of simply getting my kids through high school without any of us appearing in the police blotter. Only one more year to go.
There is no denying that good kids as well as good parents make bad choices sometimes. How we choose to handle them, however, speaks volumes about our character. My friend had no control over that man’s choice of words, but her decision to be a caring, dignified ambassador for our school probably conveyed a more lasting image of ‘who we are’ as an institution than his crass behavior. The choice to refuse to allow the conduct of one to speak for the majority is a universal concept that can be applied across the board.
Christianity is no exception. Being an ambassador for Christ is an integral part of a choosing to become a Christian. It involves learning and identifying what being part of God’s family entails. Hence my years of bible study. It means choosing to behave in a way that pleases Him—not to earn His love, but because you have His love. Choosing to be an emissary of Christ doesn’t necessarily require eloquence. In fact, I’ve learned more about Christianity watching the quiet grace of fellow Christians (like the woman noted above) than any sermon I’ve ever heard. Choosing to conduct yourself in a way that attracts others to Christ is something we can all accomplish regardless of our oratorical skills. Our lives are meant to be “reflectors of God’s light to a darkened world.”* Without having to say anything, we can choose to reflect His joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. A tall order yes, and one where we will frequently fail. Nevertheless, our failures can be used to glorify God, maybe even more so. Without failures, I’d have nothing to write about. Therein lies the truth behind the adage, “your mess becomes your message.”
As shocking as sideline behavior sometimes is, it carries over into every aspect of life. Eventually, we will all find ourselves in situations where we are faced with a similar choice as to how we conduct ourselves and how we hold others in our families and associations accountable for reflecting our shared morals. Regardless of your beliefs, we can all choose to be ambassadors of light and goodness in this world because as Ken Nerburn points out in his book Letters to My Son, “We have the power to create joy and happiness by our simple acts of caring and compassion...the power to unlock the goodness in other people’s hearts by sharing the goodness in ours.”
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day,
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear;
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see the good in action is what everybody needs.
I can soon learn how to do it if you’ll let me see it done.
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lectures you deliver may be very wise and true;
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do.
For I may misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
Edgar A. Guest
*To See the Sky, Judith Hugg, pg. 64.