I’m sitting in the Little Rock Airport at Burger King. It’s 9:40 AM and time for lunch. Yeah, that’s how messed up you get when you travel too much. So, a guy in a brightly colored pro football team T-shirt walks by and stops when he sees another guy wearing a different team’s jersey. He gives the stranger a thumbs up and says, “You guys did real good the other day.” And then I hear:
“You got a great defense.”
“It’s been a surprise. We didn’t know we’d be this good.”
“Well it was a nice win.”
“Yeah, thanks, we needed it. And you guys are going to be Ok.”
“We got to work on offense a little more.”
“Yeah. It’ll happen. You’ll be fine.”
And so it went on, for a little longer, as if these semi-portly middle-aged men shuffling through the airport with roller-bags were themselves players or back office executives at their respective NFL teams. There was a sense of identity and belonging that got my attention. All the “you guys” and the “we” references spoke to a deep human need for affiliation. What’s really interesting is that we don’t often get that need met in our neighborhoods, or churches, or workplaces where we spend most of our time, but in connection with favored sporting teams.
Something that distinctively impressed me about these two men was their affable spirit. The other team was something to be respected, and even admired, and not at all disliked, and so was the fan of that team. They spoke of their respective tribes like they were really involved, first hand, in tribal activities. And I suppose they actually are, in their own ways. Not everyone who is part of the action has to be on the turf, wearing protective equipment.
We should remember this deep need for belonging, or for affiliation. If we can cultivate more of it at work, we can connect up with deep resources in the human spirit that need to be called into play for the best results to happen.
And then, who knows? We may make it to the playoffs.