When I was in high school I was on the cross country team. I loved it for many reasons, especially for the socializing. Because my mind was more on good conversation that split times I never was very competetive when it came to racing. But, the good thing about cross country is that they never had tryouts. If you showed up on a race day in a uniform you always got to play. By my senior year my 5K times were good enough to be a member of the varsity team but I was usually the 6th runner.
I've seen T-shirts at basketball games where fans claim to be the 6th man on the team because their cheering has the power to influence the outcome of the game.
Being the 6th or 7th runner is a lot different than being a fan.
For those of you who aren't familiar with cross country may think that the goal of every runner is to win the race. Not so. As the 6th runner, my job was to be a "displacer" or a "pusher" which lends to many a raised eyebrow, but is not near as interesting as it sounds. Basically it was my job to try and beat one of the top five runners from other teams. Cross country is similar to golf only in that whoever has the lowest score wins. Each person who crosses the finish line receives points and the more people who cross before you, the higher your point. If I, as a pusher, could outrun someone whose points were actually going to count, it gave my team a better chance at winning.
I liked my job because I didn't feel that it carried the same amount of pressure as the top five. It also made it really fun when I started out at the back of the pack and could slowly pass people. I would imagine them with point values floating in the air above their heads and could see them increase as I went by. Unfortunately people often passed me, but I was confident knowing that my value was solid and consitently zero. I could hurt them, but they couldn't hurt me. When the race was over I would immediately meet in big sweaty hug with my teammates. Our combined effort held value becuase I knew that we all needed each other win or lose.
I was thinking about this the other day while I was blow-drying my hair.
Sometimes it seems like we are in a race against each other and some people seem to be winning and some people definitely seem to be losing. Because we are so competetive in our society it is hard not to think that displacing someone else will benefit us. But, the secret is that we are all on one team. There are no zeros in the race and passing someone doesn't change their point value. Our values are fixed and won't be changed by anything that anyone around us does or does not do.
The secret of cross country is that racing is DANG HARD. We need to be there for our teammates as much as we need them to be there for us.