U.S. Women’s Soccer and the Importance of Sympathetic Joy
I was never very good at soccer. A lack of foot/ eye coordination mixed with my ability to sprint like an asthmatic turtle caused me to hang up my cleats at the ripe old age of 10.
However, I never lost my love for the game. I ran enough laps as a child to respect the extreme endurance athletes must have to sprint all over the field for 90 minutes.
And I know enough about game strategy that I can (mostly) understand what’s happening on the field. So, it’s been with great enthusiasm that I’ve watched the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team win their 2nd world cup in a row.
That is a very big deal in any sport, not just soccer. A championship run makes for a long season which wears down star players. Fatigue can lead to fighting in the locker room, which hurts morale. And over time, opposing teams start to make adjustments. They know who you pass to when the game is on the line, they make plans to counter your favorite plays.
On top of all that, the World Cup only happens every 4 years; giving opponents plenty of time to watch film on star players and create strategies to nullify them. In short, the fact that U.S. Women’s Soccer did a 2-peat is nothing short of miraculous. It’s a testament to their skill, teamwork, and indomitable spirit.
That being said, the march to victory hasn’t been trouble-free. In January, Megan Rapinoe, the team co-captain, told a reporter, “I’m not going to the f-cking white house,” when asked if she would accept an invite from President Trump.
At the end of the day, Rapinoe is a grown woman. She can go or not go wherever she pleases. And it would be nice if the conversation stopped there. But there’s a lot of money to be made in outrage, so it didn’t. Talking heads gave their opinion, Twitter exploded, and my timeline was filled with opinions either supporting or denigrating her decision.
All of this is to be expected. Long ago, I learned that people like getting worked up over things, and they jump on opportunities to yell at each other. But there is one thing that happened, which troubled me. After Rapinoe’s comments, I started to see Americans rooting against the U.S. Women’s team.
Suddenly they were arrogant. They scored too much, they celebrated too much, and they just didn’t win in the right way.
These complaints are rarely leveled at the men’s team that is equally boisterous in its celebrations. So, I have a suspicion that the issue isn’t about sportsmanship so much as it’s about the women’s politics. Some of them don’t like the president, many are outspoken activists, and they all want more pay. Naturally, this leads to conflict with others who feel differently than they do.
In times like this, it can be helpful to remember Buddha’s teaching on sympathetic-joy, which is one of 4 awakened mind-states that we must develop in order to attain Nirvana. Simply put, sympathetic-joy is the ability to feel happy when other people experience success. We’ve all done this at some point in our lives.
Whether it’s a father who feels pride when his son hits a home run or a woman who smiles as her family eats the dinner she prepared, each of us has the ability to share in the happiness of others. In Buddhism, however, we take this a step farther and train ourselves to share in everyone’s happiness regardless of how we might feel about them.
The concept is simple. Good things are constantly happening to people we don’t like. So, if we can learn to put our feelings aside and share in their happiness, we’ll have greater joy and contentment in our own lives.
Unfortunately, this can be difficult to put into practice. When we’re trapped in the deluded mind states of anger and ignorance, we often feel threatened by the success of other people. This effect is multiplied if we don’t agree with that person’s politics or lifestyle. So, we try and tear them down, which furthers the cycle of suffering.
One way to counter this is to remind ourselves that we’re all siblings in a great human family. Thus, if one of us wins, we all win. And we should applaud the success of others in the same way that we applaud a sibling who does well in school or a parent who gets a raise at work.
Doing this allows us to experience sympathetic-joy and our lives become more peaceful as a result.
I’m not a woman. I don’t play soccer. And I’ll never be part of a professional sports team. But I’m part of a great human family. That makes the members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team my sisters in a roundabout, Buddhist sort of way. So, I take great pleasure in their success as any brother would. And I encourage everyone else to do the same.
We can argue about the other stuff later. But here, in this moment, let’s just be happy for each other.
Sensei Alex Kakuyo is an author, activist, and Buddhist teacher in the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. He teaches a nonsectarian approach to the Dharma, which encourages students to seek enlightenment in everyday life.