The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said. -Peter Drucker
Ironically I write about heroes on Mondays but today, Thursday here in New Zealand, I can’t get heroes off my mind. My guess is most American’s don’t know much about the America’s Cup, but today while all of New Zealand sat glued to the TV and radio heart break happened. After a valiant fight the Kiwi’s didn’t bring home the prize. My empathy was on overdrive this week, not because I just wanted New Zealand to win, but because I didn’t want Dean Barker (the…um well I’m not sure the word but he’s the main guy, the skipper maybe? Again herein lies the issue most of the country-NZ & US-don’t know the language of yachting but I digress) to lose. That’s weird though. When in a sport do you hope not to lose?!? No you always cheer to win! That runs through my blood as an American. You can always win. You can always come back. But sadly that is how most of NZ felt. Just don’t lose. Yet if you listen to the main guy on the American yacht, who is Australian may I point out, he EVERY DAY said we can win this. Even when their boat was embarrassingly slow and they were losing 8 races to 2.
I attempted to say to my husband, “Here is what kills me in this culture! You don’t hope to not lose you should hope to win. That slight difference is a major difference for your psyche. That is what Americans do right.” Of course in my humble opinion. My husband challenged that thought process because there are no Americans on the yacht and it’s not a national sport like here in New Zealand. Maybe. But the attitude does make a difference.
Seven days later I caught myself saying, “Please don’t lose Dean Barker.” Am I becoming more Kiwi? Have I started to understand the Kiwi spirit a bit more? Maybe. I’m not totally sure. All I know is my empathy felt like it was on overdrive. For whatever reason you can go from hero to zero in half a second in New Zealand, especially in sports. No judgement just reality. I hate it. All I could think about was Dean Barker and his heart. The guys on the boat the put everything into these races and actually won by a ridiculous amount but was stripped of the title because of a time limit. The weight of an entire country on their shoulders.
I’m not going to lie. I hate the hero to zero thing. I know I tried not to judge but I just did. I hate it. But maybe just maybe it shows the passion. The fight. The love of sports. The way an entire country backs you, cheers for you, believes in you when you represent New Zealand. As an American I never felt this. The Olympics every four years was my only taste of this. And oh how I love the Olympics. Living in New Zealand I feel this all the time. It’s incredible. Picture that feeling you get when the gymnastic girls are teetering on the edge of the gold medals, but picture that all year long! It’s awesome. National teams mean a camaraderie that has no racism, no boundary lines, and knows no limits of age or social class. You are all in for New Zealand, all the time, all together. It’s like a addictive fix for this emotional junkie.
So maybe my irritation with the hero to zero actually masks the incredible component of sporting that New Zealand offers. An entire country is with you. You throw a ball, shoot a shot put, sail a boat, kick a rugby ball for the whole of New Zealand…not for yourself. It’s also why when you lose the country has lost. They were with you every moment and the only way to process that feeling is to move people from hero to zero. Sigh. Amazing what happens when you look beyond what it appears to be. The thing for four years that irritated me is actually what endears me to New Zealand and my favourite part of living here. Today I was caught up in the country’s hype for a sport I knew nothing about and quite frankly still don’t, but then felt the slew of emotions that come with loss. But…and here’s the key: I did it with four million other people. That is a unique privilege I will never take for granted and always be grateful.