Outrunning you

Two guys are running away from a hungry bear. The bear is gaining. One guy stops and hastily changes into a pair or running shoes. His companion says, “You’re nuts. You’re never going to outrun that bear.”

Running shoe guy says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.”

I’ve never liked that joke; not just because leaving your companion for bear road kill is not a hilarious image to me, but also because it gives a misleading impression of how to survive and succeed in the world. In the race of life we are competing against ourselves, not against each other. The challenge is between me as I am and me as I could be.

It has taken me a while to ingrain that idea. I was captain of our high school football and basket ball teams, and played basketball for Brigham Young University one year before my mission. I was known as a fairly fierce competitor. I still believe in competition for entertainment, and to compare specific skills. I don’t believe in it for evaluating people.

This is especially important in my roles as husband, father, and now grandfather. With 15 children, it would have been easy and tempting to make comparisons. “Why don’t you get as good grades as your brother/sister? You cause more trouble than any three of your siblings.” Even complimentary comparisons can be unsettling. “You are the smartest, or prettiest, or most lovable etc.” can make the person think, “Who’s in second place, and are they gaining on me?”

Competition and comparison between people is not accurate and not fair. I have told our children and other groups to whom I have lectured and taught, “The only reason you don’t have an Olympic medal around your neck or a Rhodes Scholar invitation in your pocket is because the contest was designed to maximize somebody else’s skills and not yours.” I could easily get the top grade in a test of questions like, “How did Duane Hiatt chip his front tooth in grade school, and what did he learn from that.” I’d have a pretty good chance of winning a race that was limited to people over six feet tall with a twice broken nose and 52 or more grandchildren. If I structured enough requirements to my advantage, I could win the gold. Unfortunately the big races and tests seem to be set up to favor other peoples’ advantages, like being fast and smart. So far I have not heard back from either the Rhodes scholarship or the Olympic committees about my proposal.

The no comparison approach is important as we formulate our New Year’s resolutions. It’s fine to use others as examples and even as role models. However, we will be happier and make more progress if we think of our future and ourselves as filled with infinite possibilities, and our Heavenly Father as our coach and cheer leader, and life as a stimulating open ended adventure, not a race in which the strong and speedy win and the slow and weak are bear breakfast.