As a child, I can remember always picking the underdog. When given the choice between heads or tails, it was tails. I associated tails with left handedness for some reason (???), and I felt both were underdogs. When watching football on TV with my dad and brothers, I wanted to know who the favorite team was by consensus, and secretly I would root for the other team. Miss America pageant? Well, Miss Texas of course! But if she wasn’t in the running, I would give a quick scan, decide who was least likely to win out of the finalists, and vehemently wish upon wish she would be crowned.
As I got older I often wondered about this pull I have for the underdog. At one point I wondered if it was an unworthiness thing. Did I feel like my ‘vote’ wouldn’t count enough to entitle me to pick the “good one”, so instead, I chose the “bad one”? A bit difficult to admit, but it’s true, I wondered if this were the case.
Then recently I was reminded of a time I was hanging out at the pool with my brothers and friends. I was about five or six years old. One of my brothers, John I suspect, pushed me in. I wasn’t a very strong swimmer at the time and I remember panicking. As I was flailing about, a boy named Daryl Ramey, jumped in and pulled me to the edge. As surprised as I was with the whole experience, I was more surprised that Daryl, not really the pool bully, but definitely the pool jerk, was the one who jumped in to save me.
Daryl was the kid with hair so blonde it was white. I mean, really white. Which means it turned really green every summer with all of the chlorine. In that setting, his green hair is what made him the underdog in my eyes, even though he was the strongest and fastest swimmer.
Since I had already labeled him as the pool underdog in my mind, I had compassion for him before the rescue incident, which made it natural and easy for me to express my sincere gratitude. As I thanked him, I believe the look I saw on his face was one of shock. I’m not sure if he was shocked by the sincerity in my voice, but I suspect it may have been that, mingled with his feeling of being seen.
After all, isn’t that what we all want? To be seen by another? To know that we are being seen for who we are, not the jerk behavior that’s really just a facade, not the sports team who is expected to lose, not any of that. I believe we all desire to be seen for who we truly are.
What Pulls Us to Root for the Underdog?
So what is the tie that binds this whole underdog topic together? Compassion. When driven by compassion, I believe you have the capacity to better see** the other person. It wasn’t a feeling of unworthiness that was the driver, it was a feeling of compassion all along. I felt compassion for left handed kids, always smearing lead on their paper and all over the fatty part of their hands when they wrote. Just as I felt compassion for Daryl with his green hair, often wondering if that was why he behaved the way he did.
As stated by Arthur H. Stainback, “The value of compassion cannot be over-emphasized. Anyone can criticize. It takes a true believer to be compassionate. No greater burden can be borne by an individual than to know no one cares or understands.”
So be a true believer today…a believer in your fellow man, perhaps even the underdog. Commit to a practice of seeing each person you greet today. Know that through your compassion in the present moment, you are providing an act of love, one in which they will feel cared for and understood. It all starts with your willingness to see.
**For those of you who have seen the movie Avatar, think of the deeper meaning of the word “see” held by the Na’vi. It was used at different times throughout the movie, mostly be Jake and his partner Neytiri, when they would say, “I see you.”