The difficulty of “simple”

Lately, I have been contemplating the word “simple”.

Simple things, simple pleasures, simple actions.  Simple is usually considered to be “easiest” or “fastest”.  It is rarely thought to be difficult to take the simplest way.

Difficult, though, is just what simple can be.

Simple kindness… for some kindness is difficult.  It is never easy to let go of one’s ego and be compassionate.  Usually compassion requires some form of sacrifice – at least on the part of one taking compassionate action.

Simple pleasure… how does one simplify pleasure – one first must remove ego and allow pleasure to infuse the soul.  The simple pleasure of a sunny day… one first must shove aside all the intruding needs, wants and have-tos to be able just to acknowledge that it is a sunny day.

The concept of harming none – the concept of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you – the concept of being excellent to each other – these are simple concepts.  But the actions required to achieve these concepts are very, very difficult – particularly when ego is in the way.

We must give up our egoic point of view.  We must remove ourselves from the equation.  “What’s in it for me?” should never be the first question or even any part of the question.  Heart-felt love, kindness and compassion for others and one’s self are not self-ish or self-centered – even if the love is for one’s self.  As long as egoic aggrandizement is not part of the motivation, love and even self-love — loving kindness and compassion for one’s self — supports the heart and builds the ability to give loving kindness and compassion to others.

A social worker I once knew had a moral compass that required her to ask “Will a child die?” To her, the worst possible outcome of any action was the death of a child.  While I agree that is the worst possible outcome, I think that even if the answer is “no” the question might just be the wrong question.  Harm comes in many shapes and sizes.  So too actions… the moral compass needs to be something along the lines of “Who/what is harmed?”  If by telling a “little lie” – nothing that seems “big” – you somehow cause another person to become homeless, you have caused great harm.  Is this possible?  Yes.  It very nearly happened to me.

“Ah!” you say, “very nearly” – well the results of that person’s “little lie” have not come to completion yet… I and my family could still become homeless.  Fortunately for me, there are others in my world that are far less egoic than the people who lied and caused the crisis.  Fortunately, should that horrible moment come that me and mine would have no place to live, there are those who would take us in.  And so, was there harm in that “little lie”? Of course.  Might it also create a change for the better?  Possibly. But was it worth it?  Not to me.



And then there is College Baseball and Heroic Acts of Compassion…

OK, it is rare that the Today Show can make me teary-eyed at 7:00 AM-ish. They just don’t do many heartwarming subjects. Today on Today was different. They did a quick little news blurb about a young woman hitting a 3-run home run, injuring her leg and then being carried around the bases by the opposing team’s first baseman and the shortstop. Meredith and I got teary.

Right-fielder and .153 hitter, Sara Tucholsky, of the Western Oregon University team, smacked one over the fence… she’d never done that before, even in batting practice. What a moment! Imagine the elation – a three run homer! She missed the bag on 1st and turned back to touch it. That was when her right knee gave out. She crawled back to first because the first base coach told her no one could help her or she’d be out. There went her home run—gone in a second of tearing pain in her knee. She couldn’t be helped by her team and the coach was told if she got a pinch runner Sara would only be credited with a single and two RBIs[1]. Cold comfort. Then an angel appeared in the form of Mallory Holtman of the opposing Central Washington University team.

THIS is not just the definition of good sportsmanship… shaking hands with the opposing team takes care of that… THIS is the epitome of grace, integrity, compassion. The two young women, Mallory, who happens to be the home run leader in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, and her teammate, shortstop Liz Wallace, are now my heroes. These two women didn’t know that Sara Tucholsky had just hit her first home run in her college career; they didn’t know that she is a graduating senior and, because of the injury, will not have another opportunity like this in her life. All they knew was that Sara was about to lose her home run credit, she was injured, and she deserved to get credit for hitting the ball over the fence. If SHE didn’t touch every base, she wouldn’t get the credit she deserved. That was when first baseman Mallory stepped in and asked if she could carry her around the bases. The umpire said there was no rule against that – no doubt because rule-makers could hardly imagine that the opposing team would WANT to help their opponents score runs.

These beautiful humans chair-carried their opponent around the bases, gently letting her left leg down to touch each base. This is the stuff that Sports Movies are made of – only if you’d seen it in a movie you wouldn’t have believed it. Needless to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the park. Her team was waiting for her at Home – in tears.

What a wonderful moment in the world. What a great lesson for all people engaged in a struggle that requires a Winner and a Loser. It is hard to even use the word Loser in terms of Ms Holtman & Ms Wallace in spite of their being on the losing side of the ball game. They lost NOTHING. They gained the respect of at least one middle-aged woman half a continent away.

What can we take away from this moment of utter selflessness and integrity? Well, I would argue that our Presidential candidates and their opponents (both in the race and out) could learn something from three college-student baseball players.

Don’t try to annihilate your opponent. Be generous. Be compassionate. Show us you are worthy of our respect. Winning isn’t everything if in winning you lose your personal integrity.

© 2008

[1] NCAA rules do allow a pinch runner for a home run but the Umpires did not know that at the time. Odd don’t you think?