Monday, July 26, 2010

Happiness is a team sport

Courier article - posted here two weeks after publication.
I wonder how many people on Mersea were closely following the fortunes of the England team in the World Cup. By the time this gets published we'll know who has won it this year. Personally I'd like it if a country that has never won it before wins the prize – so Holland or Spain – but the form of the German team (playing their semi-final tonight as I write this) is ominous.

Before watching the England-Germany game – for which I didn't entertain much hope, although I thought we'd limit it to a 3-1 defeat – I was watching the BBC build-up, and there was an interview with Boris Becker, where he said (rather smugly, it must be admitted) “football is a team sport, and Germany has the better team”. It was annoying to admit it, but he was right. Doubtless there are all sorts of long-term reasons why England doesn't do well at international tournaments but the sight of our players doing their best to impersonate cranially-challenged poultry was unnerving. I'm sure that Capello's slavish adherence to 4-4-2 had something to do with it, but....

There was another bit of feedback from the victorious Germans after the match. Thomas Muller – who scored twice against us – said “"It is difficult to have so many 'alpha males' and have them row in the same direction. You don't only need chiefs, you also need a few Indians. You need people who are willing to do the hard work. It may be a problem with England that players are simply not mentally prepared to go that extra mile for their team-mates." It was annoying to admit it, but he was right.

Football is a team sport. It doesn't matter how many 'new Maradonas' or 'new Zidanes' a team might have – if they don't work together, if they don't have a common purpose, if they are not prepared to make personal sacrifices in pursuit of a larger goal – then they will fail. The failures will be both individual and corporate. The team of brilliant individuals will always lose out to the team of lesser talents prepared to work together.

The great French philosopher Albert Camus once wrote “After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA” - the RUA being his football team, for whom he kept goal. It is, in truth, not a complicated lesson to learn. If we look after each other, and work for the common good, then everyone benefits.

This doesn't just apply to leisure pursuits like football. It applies to every sphere of our lives, and in our context of increasing economic misery, it will apply most of all to the fundamental matters of life – having enough to eat, having a roof over our head, having clothes for our children to wear. If we look after each other, and work for the common good, then everyone benefits.

When exploring the context of our contemporary crises – of economic collapse, resource exhaustion, wars and the rumours of wars – I am very struck by the way in which the best-informed commentators continually return to one basic truth. There are so many things that can be done to help prepare people for what is coming – getting out of debt, learning to grow our own food, investing in alternative energy – but the single most important thing is to build up a community. This is because a community working together can withstand a very great deal more than a loose collection of individuals all looking out for their own interests.

Which is one of the blessings that Mersea enjoys. Partly – but not just – because of the geographical accident of being an island, Mersea does have a community identity, and we need to do as much as we can to support and foster it. There are many ways in which that can be done – and I'll return to what they are in later columns – but one way is to be involved with, and supportive of, the West Mersea Mayor and Council, and the work that they do. In an ideal world the local council would have much more authority within Mersea than they presently enjoy – and Colchester Borough, and Essex County, and, indeed, Whitehall and Westminster would all have much less – but it will take some time for rationality to break through the entrenched bureaucracy. In the meantime we need to work with what we've got and work as constructively and co-operatively as we can. If we don't hang together, we will most assuredly hang separately.

Our common future will only be reached collaboratively. That is, our happiness is a team sport, and if we look after each other, and work for the common good, then everyone benefits.

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