November 30

The Price of Protecting Ourselves

November 30, 2012

Personal Growth

Recently I watched a football game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. At halftime, the Giants were far ahead—23-0, as I recall—so I quit watching. More than an hour later I turned back to the channel and discovered that the score was much closer, NY 29, Dallas 24. I had missed a lot of activity.

With 44 seconds remaining in the game, Dallas got the ball and had to move about 70 yards to score the required touchdown. Impressively, the Dallas quarterback completed one short pass after another, each consuming only a few seconds. With thirteen seconds left in the game, the quarterback threw a pass into the back of the end zone, where his receiver narrowly caught the ball between two defenders and fell to the ground. Touchdown. Dallas had come from far behind and won the game.

The game was held in Dallas, so nearly the entire stadium erupted in loud jubilation. But a slow-motion replay demonstrated that just before the receiver's body hit the ground—entirely within the end zone—he instinctively reached out with one hand to break his fall and touched maybe three inches of the out-of-bounds line. The touchdown was negated, and Dallas lost. The celebration was sucked out of the entire stadium of 80,000 people.

Professional football players are exceptionally strong, skilled, and tough athletes. During countless practices they engage in drills where they violently slam into each other, precisely to increase their strength and toughness, and so they won't be afraid of collisions or falling to the ground. But self-protection is a very strong instinct, so the Dallas receiver just could not stop himself from putting out his hand before he hit the ground, and that small act of self-preservation cost his team the game.

We all have powerful instincts to defend ourselves, but they often cost us the game, as with the Dallas player. When we protect ourselves, we become separated from others and make unconditional love and happiness impossible. It is fortunate that we can learn to identify our defensive behaviors and—with practice—gradually eliminate them.

Big win, coming from behind. The crowd roars.

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