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Friday, February 8, 2013

On Cutting Others Some Slack

Joe B. Hall
      It’s a phone call I regret to this day. I was fifteen years old, and angry that my beloved Kentucky Wildcats had lost a basketball game at Mississippi State. Forget the fact that the Cats were 13-4. Forget the fact that I knew nothing about coaching basketball. Somebody had to pay.

      So I dialed up then Coach Joe B. Hall’s Big Blue Line, his weekly fan call-in show, in order to let him have it. While I waited on hold, Coach Hall and radio legend Cawood Ledford fielded the usual friendly questions from callers (“We’re all behind you down here in Hazard, Coach”).

      Finally, my moment of shame. Cawood began, “We’ve got a young listener, Mike, on the phone. Do you have a question for the coach?”  And, as they say, fools rush in where angels fear to tread: “Coach Hall, why don’t you stop your lame excuses and just admit you can’t coach?”

      Horrible, I know. Words are like squeezed toothpaste; there’s no way to get them back in. Joe B. Hall is a legend, a national championship coach and the best ambassador for Kentucky basketball since Bill Keightley passed away. Fortunately, he has the class to chuckle about my comments on the air; the callers who followed weren’t nearly as kind to me.

Mark Stoops
      While I no longer blast coaches on air, I wish I could say I no longer criticize them, but I do. I am also not alone.  A few months ago, UK football fans rejoiced at the firing of Joker Phillips, after having howled for his head for a year or more.  And I can’t say it’s the wrong decision, given new coach Mark Stoops' early recruiting success. But Coach Stoops should take note, amid the current lovefest, that SEC football is a business, and coaches who take big salaries are expected to deliver big wins.

      So let's talk about expectations. We live in a world of them, and many of us are not bashful about expressing them. Whether it’s our team’s coach, or our elected officials, we are happy to serve as judge and jury regarding their failure to succeed to our standards.

       You may say, “But these public figures are paid a lot of money to produce—we have the right to expect a lot.” That argument might hold water, if it wasn't for the fact that we can be just as unforgiving in our expectations of those who don’t make millions of dollars. If we’re honest, some of us also extend high expectations to our pastor, our child’s teachers, or even our cashier at McDonald’s.

        Even worse are the pressures we put on those in our families; namely, our spouses and children. Wherever we think they’re falling short—whether it’s poor grades, questionable career decisions, failure to follow through, ongoing weight issues, or some other perceived problem—we can be unrelenting toward those who fail to fulfill our vision of what we think they should be.

        But here’s the thing. We critics rarely look in the mirror with the same eye of judgment that we cast on others. It’s an age old tendency, one Jesus indicted in the Sermon on the Mount: "How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye." 

      For the critics among us, it might help us to ask ourselves, "When's the last time I took a hard look at my own performance, as an employee, as a spouse, as a parent, or as a friend? How consistently productive am I in my work, or do I take advantage of my employer's good graces? How faithful am I in encouraging my spouse, or am I more concerned about how they meet my expectations? How attentive have I been with my friends, or am I taking them for granted" Do we expect the same level excellence from ourselves as we do from others?

       This coming Lent is a perfect time for this sort of introspection, a Spirit-led scrutiny of our own need for growth. In the meantime, until we’re ready to put ourselves through the ringer, maybe we should consider cutting others a little slack. 

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