“‘Me, me again, me always!’

This thought lies at the deep root of our misery.”

Shosan Suzuki

 I love baseball. Okay, I love the San Francisco Giants. (I especially love it when they’re winning, which they are.) I think I most appreciate that, in baseball, each player has his unique style and contribution to make and his moment at bat, but his talent is only seen, is only really useful, in the larger context of playing as part of a team.

In a recent game I listened to the commentators discussing one particular player’s recent triumphant turnaround from a long lousy streak at bat. When asked what had changed things he said that he’d had an epiphany: he realized that he’d been playing for himself, and not the team. He’d been focused only on his personal performance, the result of which was disastrous. So he decided that he was going to think instead about playing for the team. That was it.

This simple but profound perceptual shift from individual to collective success created a whole new ball game for this guy. (Sorry, it was just too good to pass up. At least I didn’t say “There is no “I” in T-E-A-M.” Which, by the way, there isn’t.)  “Show me a team with 25 talented, selfish players,” the announcer continued, “and I’ll show you a losing team.”

We are, the lot of us, on a team called the Human Race: a bunch of really talented, smart individuals on a precipitous losing streak. We’re missing the ball with our global economics, wars (to be rather redundant), ecology and an insidious erosion of civil rights. All this has arisen from a pernicious focus on self.

For hundreds of years now we, as a nation and as individuals, have been focused on maximizing personal gain without taking into account the long-term effect our actions had on the team’s well-being and moral. We’ve conquered and eradicated, hoarded and used to the point where we now find ourselves indebted, divided, fearful, violent, materially satiated and spiritually impoverished. And what I am suggesting, not to put too fine a point on it, is that we did this through a mental precept that put personal will and comfort ahead of the greater good.

In life, as in baseball, each individual is uniquely valuable and important, but that value  is in the context of a larger whole. An individual acting as an independent entity erodes cohesiveness. That same sort of “free agent” thinking on a political and national level is disastrous: witness our economic, political and environmental reality.

What’s most interesting about the ball player’s story is that it was when the player shifted his focus from self to team that he started hitting well. Expanding his perspective, he began to experience the sort of success that he had wanted all along. And, simultaneously, his team improved. You could call this a win-win.

The implications of this sort of shift in perspective for our community, our nation and our little blue planet are profound. For example: what if I looked at a ballot measure that proposed increasing property taxes for public schools–not from the standpoint of personal interest (“I don’t even have kids”) but instead from the standpoint of our community? (“Great schools are the basis for a more tolerant, healthy, creative world.”)

Or what if I stop to consider that choosing an organic apple (more expensive then it’s conventional neighbor in the bin next-door) is not just about money or my personal health but also the health of the air, water, and earth upon which we all depend? And what might happen if I thought about the fact that more than a million people, roughly half of whom are women and children, have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? And further, what if I realized that these $4.5 trillion dollar wars have cost $7,000 per U. S. Citizen, placed us in servitude to our creditors and left thousands of our teammates dead or maimed?

I might stop and ask myself how that possibly serves the advancement of our team.

The quiet, often subtle, personal choices we make on a daily basis reverberate throughout the whole of the human race. It matters what you buy, what you drive, what you eat, what policies you support. It matters what you focus on, and whether that focus is on self or the interests of all concerned. A small shift between these two perspectives can be a game changer. Nobody wine unless we win together, and together, we’re giant.

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