Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When Your "We" Becomes "They"

Have you ever been around a sports fanatic who boasts about his favorite team’s accomplishments? By their mannerisms, their words, and their enthusiasm you’d think they were actually on the team!

I’ve been there. Or, maybe I should say I am there. You see, I am a die-hard Georgia Bulldogs fan. But, not just an ordinary fan. I am pretty vested. I went to school at the University of Georgia, worked in the Athletic Department for three years, and have been a season ticket holder for 13 seasons running.

I am more than a fan. I am…as they say at the poker table – all in.

But, what about when things aren’t going well? What about getting whipped 31-0 in the first half against Alabama earlier this year? You see, I was at that game. It was brutal. ESPN’s College GameDay was there for the big matchup, and before the game, all the Georgia “faithful” were saying things like “We’re gonna roll the Tide.” Or, they’d say, “We’ll definitely be Number 1 in the nation when we win this game.”

But, we didn’t win, and we were the ones who got rolled. And, you know what happened in the stands and on the radio after the game?

Our “we” became a “they.”

We no longer spoke in the first person. Instead, we said things like, “They got their tails handed to them.” Or, “I don’t know what they are going to do in the second half, but they better get their act together.”

I recently had the opportunity to hear marketing guru Seth Godin speak at a leadership conference. He has a new book out entitled Tribes which talks about this phenomenon.

Here’s what Godin had to say (paraphrase): “When people go to a sporting event and get all fired up and cheer, they aren’t really cheering for that team. They’re not even cheering for the players in the uniforms. They’re actually cheering for themselves. All these people in the stands are connected by their affinity for this team – they are a tribe – and they are all cheering because it makes them feel better about themselves.”

I had never thought about this before. Let that sink in for a minute.

But, this makes perfect sense. When our team scores a touchdown, or wins an election, or accomplishes a monumental task of any kind, we celebrate with them – because we are part of that tribe, and we want to be identified with that success. It makes us feel good.

So, it should be no surprise that when our team (or tribe) fares poorly that we want to distance ourselves from them. We wave our arms in disgust, become critical of what they are doing, and bring out the boo-birds. We don’t want to be identified with failure. Their failure. Not ours.

Sports analogies seem to make the most sense, but the very same thing can happen in any group. Your company. Your church. Your family.

And, in a culture with so many choices, people can easily jump from one ship to another to try to avoid sinking. Instead of being a part of the solution, they prefer to point a finger and latch on to the flavor of the week.

The fickle world of college football is one thing, but when a spouse withdraws from the partnership of marriage, or a volunteer starts to gossip about a leader in your organization, or when fingers are pointed at others across the conference room table, you’ve got real problems on your hands. It’s called disunity. There’s not a universal “we” anymore. And, that spells trouble.

So, what does that mean for you and me? It means we have to be honest with ourselves and closely examine the level of commitment we offer – to our spouse, our families, our companies, our places of worship, and any other group with whom we identify.

Loyalty isn’t a word we hear much about these days. But, there are few things I value more than someone who is dependable and will stick by my side – not just when we’re winning, but in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

Is your “we” starting to fade? If so, you’ve got some tough decisions to make, and some difficult conversations to initiate. But, whatever you do, please remove the word “they” from your vocabulary. Speak the truth – in love – and help provide solutions, not create dissension.


ManUtd17 said...

When my team fares poorly, I feel it just as hard as I do when my team does well. I don't necessarily distance myself from them when they lose. I CAN tell how invested I am in a team based on how I feel when they play poorly. For example, if UF or Manchester United lose, it affects my mood -- longer than it should. But if another team I follow plays poorly, it doesn't affect me nearly as much -- or as long.

Unknown said...

I would agree with that. Once upon a time, I was a die-hard 49ers fan - for nearly 20 years. I took 49ers losses almost as hard as UGA losses.

But, when the Niners moved out of the Falcons' division, and I didn't get to go down to Atlanta and watch them every year, my interest began to wane a little.

Nowadays, losing for the 49ers is almost expected. I still follow them and pull for them. But, the losses have virtually no affect on me - like you said.

What's hilarious is that about 5 seconds ago, my 4-year old came running over to me, wearing - for the very first time - his plaid flannel 49ers pajamas.

OK, maybe I'm a little more vested than I thought.

Unknown said...

Just become a fan of the Jackets and you'll never be disappointed!!!