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  • Reverend James Squire

Getting What You Want

What do you do when you have followed all the rules, or least think you have, and don’t get what you want? This is a very basic question that all of us ask from time to time. There are two areas currently where you can see this most clearly. One is in the Pandemic and the other is at the Olympics.

Recently I have had a number of friends and colleagues who have been affected, some mildly and others not, by Covid, and their first statement is, “I did everything that I was supposed to do and still caught the virus. I can’t imagine where I picked it up.” If you follow the rules and do everything right regarding the Covid outbreak, it tugs at our ability when seeking reasonable outcomes called justice. Reason does us no good to make sense of what happened.

What must it be like for a competitor in the Olympics to spend four years getting ready to demonstrate their athleticism in four minutes? Instead of being on a podium they are looking on from down at ground level. Certainly, they are feeling that they should be rewarded for their effort and not cast aside. Since it doesn’t make sense, reason doesn’t reduce the pain of failure.

Sarah Takanashi, a ski jumper, had a terrific run that would have resulted in a medal. She had her suit made by a company who knew that it was for the Olympics and knew what the requirements were. Takanashi was chosen in a random evaluation of her suit, and it was found to be two centimeters too wide. In the course of all of competitions, she knew that her suit could be evaluated at any time. Given this fact, she would never attempt to get something over on the Olympic Committee. Other Ski jumpers had the same thing done to them. Four years is boiled down to 2 centimeters of fabric. She apologized and said that her suit was done in a correct fashion. But she was reminded that the athlete is responsible for her sportswear not the company where she purchased it. There was no recourse and no reason to explain her dilemma. Doesn’t seem fair.

What happens if you break the rules and don’t get what you want? It is the seed of most bad behavior dating as far back as the story of Cain and Abel and David and Bathsheba. Cain and Abel were the two sons of Adam and Eve. Both wanted Adam’s blessing. Adam chose Abel over Cain who became jealous of his brother and killed him. It is the first murder in the biblical record. During David’s reign over Israel, he wanted to have Bathsheba as his wife after seeing her bathing. He put Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, up front in a battle and told his troops to back up and leave Uriah vulnerable. Nathan points out to David that he is really the man who killed Uriah by this strategy with that phrase, “David, you are the man.”

Trump has spent a lifetime of being a rule breaker in business, in life, and as President. People yearn for him to get his, but nothing official has come forth holding him accountable. How could someone lie so many times, and not get caught. It doesn’t make sense. It is hard for us to understand. It is unreasonable. Trump wanted to be elected, wasn’t, and proceeded to divide our country almost killing our democracy.

The pandemic, the Olympics, and Trump all pull on our strings of what is right and the reason that rule breakers seem to get away with all their actions including Cain and David. Remember, our first ethical statement as a child is, “It’s not fair!”

When things aren’t fair, we respond with the ethical code word of “justice.” A sense of justice doesn’t leave us particularly when it doesn’t hold up to reason. There is a reason that it is our first ethical statement as we make friends with our verbal skills. It is that interwoven into our soul and psyche and is the reason that it is one of the two pillars holding up the discipline of ethics. To use Biden’s phrase, “Here’s the deal.” A sense of justice can work for and against us when we forget about it and focus on getting what we want at all costs. It leads to death inside us as well as in what we value in the people around us.

There is hope. If there is one message in the Olympics, look at those who have worked extremely hard for four years and in four minutes they don’t get what they want after following all the rules for training. It may seem unfair. But most Olympians jump up or sit there and reflect. Others go right for their teammates. They don’t say that their competitors should be faulted.

Even when it is not their fault like Bulgarian Eva Vukadinova whose run was affected by a course worker who left a tool by one of her gates in the downhill. She didn’t let a broken hand stop her from competing in a previous run. She had to repeat the run almost immediately after the tool was left at a gate and didn’t do well. She was beyond disappointed as she had done everything right in training and was negatively affected by having to repeat the run. After she had time to work through her anger in this extreme error by a course worker she could proclaim, “I am sad, really sad, but also happy and proud of myself that I was fighting till the end. I will never get rid of the smile on my face, because nothing can bring me down.”

Perhaps one of the most followed failures so far for someone to get what she wanted happened to the best women’s downhill skier in the world, Mikaela Shiffrin, who followed rules of practice for four years as well as having Covid and losing her father from a freak accident. She failed on two consecutive runs which some announcers said was “the worst thing to happen to a number 1 skier in the history of the Olympics.” At first it crushed her, but she finally said, “My best chance for the next races is to move forward, to focus, and I feel that I’m in a good place to do that. Besides my father would want me to get back out there.”

These two examples would have all of us say, “It’s not fair. She deserved a different outcome.” They didn’t get what they wanted was in all of our thoughts about fairness. They, however, didn’t attack others. Fairness was at their core. They weren’t Cain or David. It is too bad that Trump doesn’t have fairness at his core. Winning is all that matters. I hope he is watching the Olympics. He could learn one of the most valuable lessons in ethics about how to behave when you don’t get something that you want.

The measure of the character of someone is what they do when no one is looking. But character is also reflected when you followed the rules and don’t get what you wanted. We sometimes forget that. Thankfully the Olympics is a timely reminder. Our ethical work is to make the world as fair as we possibly can knowing that we will not always get what we want even when following all the rules.

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