How Team Mentality is Actually Hurting our Country

I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh. In rural America, football was a big part of growing up. By the time we were six years old, little boys were playing on the midget league and little girls were cheering from the sidelines. From a young age, we developed a strong sense of pride in our team.

Every Friday night we huddled together on the cold, hard bleachers. We held a cup of watered down hot chocolate in our hands, as we watched our team compete. The band opened the game with the Star Spangled Banner, and we proudly held our hands to our hearts. We cheered as our team rushed onto the field. We stayed until the last play and our throats were hoarse from yelling so loudly. Sunday’s were for God and for the Steelers. We rushed home from church and changed into our black and gold jerseys. We waved our Terrible Towels while we watched our team play.

We were not fans. We were part of the team. The players and the coaches became our heroes. There were times that we turned our heads when our heroes acted as if rules did not apply to them. We turned our heads when they hurt others. We often put them on pedestals and we failed to hold them accountable for their actions. Because we believed that regardless of how unfair the world seemed, through these heroes, we would ultimately win.

Athletes don’t have to think about what is best for the league. They don’t think about what is best for the country. They only have to think about what is best for their team, because football is a game, and in a game you win or lose.

This team mentality has taken over our government, but unfortunately, not in a good way. Rather than working together, as a team, for the good of our country, our team has fractured. In a poll by Pew, just before Donald Trump’s inauguration, 86% described the country as more politically divided than ever. And even more importantly, 40% expect the country to be AS DIVIDED in five years; 31% believe that our country will be MORE DIVIDED. Republicans and Democrats alike, maintain this divide by the choices we make. We choose to live in different areas of the country. We choose to socialize with people who think like we do. We even choose to watch different news sources that support what we already “know”. And as long as we continue to make these choices, it is unlikely that we will move closer together.

This division is especially clear when we look at the behavior of our elected officials. They chose to work only with members of their own party, and lately act as if the other party are villains, rather than members of the same country. In one recent example, after months of working on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), finally, Congress is working on a bipartisan bill. Why did it take that long for them to work together? You really have to wonder: Is there a benefit to those in power in keeping our country divided?

Imagine what would happen if players on the same football team stopped working together. If the Center decided to score the point himself; If the offensive lineman decided that he did not want to get hurt and stopped protecting his teammates. If each player stopped working towards the collective goals of the team, and started working towards their own goals, what would happen to that team? How long would that team survive?

Because here is the thing we keep forgetting: we are all members of the same team. We are the team of the United States of America. If we don’t put our disagreements aside and try to bridge the gap that divides us, what will happen to the team we call America?

I wish that I knew the answer to this existential problem that we face. But this problem is so much larger than I am. But there are a few things that each of us can do to move our country toward unity, and away from division.

We need to talk to other members of our team who we may not agree with

We need to talk to them with the goal of understanding, rather than the goal of defending our position. When it comes down to it, we all have the same basic needs for safety and security. We just believe there are different ways to meet those needs. If when we talk we focus on our COMMON NEEDS, rather than continuing to focus on the DIFFERENT WAYS that we think we should address those needs, we might actually start a productive dialogue. We need to clearly identify those needs and keep them in mind as we try to find mutually acceptable solutions.

Secondly, we need to be open to hearing things that might make us uncomfortable

It doesn’t matter which side you are on, we all have biases. These biases are come from our own personal experiences. Not everyone has had the same experiences in life, but that doesn’t make their experiences any less real or even less painful. Ask them about the experiences and then really listen to them. You might find that once you get to know them, you understand them a little more. You might even like them.

Unfortunately, when we hear things that go against our current beliefs or biases, it feels uncomfortable, so we turn away from people. We also gravitate towards reading things that support our current views to avoid this discomfort. But learning is uncomfortable and discomfort is a necessary part of growth. So, talk to other people. If you normally watch Fox News, read the New York Times. If you normally watch MSNBC, read the Wall Street Journal. Work through that discomfort.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some things that are happening right now that are totally unacceptable. For these things, there should be no compromise. But we are better served by strongly attacking the ISSUES (ex., racism or misogyny) rather than the people (ex. calling all people who voted for Trump racists or misogynists). When we start labeling, we stop seeing or learning.

Lastly, we need to find the courage to hold our leaders accountable

After each game, coaches and the players generally sit together to watch the film from the night before. Truly great leaders don’t blame the other team for their teams mistakes. They don’t point fingers or harass each player for every little play that went bad. However, they do expect each member of the team, including themselves, to take personal responsibility for the way they played. They look at their strengths and their weaknesses to develop a game plan for the future.

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have that great leader(s). Many of those we’ve elected to office appear to have lost touch with the needs of the people. They appear more concerned with the needs of their large donors (i.e., insurance and pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street, and the NRA, to name a few). And for those that argue that Donald Trump is an outsider who will bring about change, he does not seem to have the capacity to self-reflect or to be part of a team. We the people need to let our representative know that we expect them to work together for us. Make calls. Send emails. Attend town halls. Vote them out.

Yes, everything that I suggest involves compromise. While compromise means that we won’t get everything we want, it also means that we will get many of the things we do. (I understand that there are a few issues that can be compromised). But ask yourself this: is the way we have been functioning for the past several years working? We get our way for a few years until new politicians are elected, and then it feels as if we lose everything we fought for. Unless we enjoy living as if we are riding on a pendulum, clutching on for dear life, swinging from the left and then the right, compromise has to be part of the conversation. It is for the good of the team.