Bread and Circuses

I’d like to start the New Year on a note about kindness. It’s a big thing, so maybe get a beverage and get comfortable. 🙂

The other day, UFC former world champion fighter Ronda Rousey stepped into the octagon for perhaps the last time. The fight was short, brutal, and — for fans of Rousey (and Rousey herself, no doubt) — painful to watch. The battle was over in just 48 seconds. That’s going to be hard to live with. After the unprecedented success that Rousey had in the UFC, 13 months ago she lost her first fight and it was a big loss. Not just professionally, but personally. Mentally. Spiritually. She vanished from sight for over a year.

Then the training. The climb back. The day-to-day struggle to come to grips with the fear in her own belly.

When she entered that octagon on December 30th, she looked lean and focused and I had no doubt that she’d dominate that match. Like a lot of fans, I was shocked when she lost the match so quickly.

There’s a lot of armchair quarterbacking that happens after events like this. A lot of people who are not you who tell you why you screwed up. Why you lost. What you did wrong. None of that is helpful. It’s expected, of course, but not helpful.

And while there are millions of Rousey fans who took to social media to offer messages of support and love, there was also a shocking wave of vitriol and poison spewed at the former champ. Vile, terrible words and messages of hate. People eager to kick someone when they were down. Where is the kindness in that?

Sadly, part of that is inherent in the sport. In a world of choices, combat sports like MMA and boxing live in binary increments. It’s win or lose. Do or die. The concept of grace in victory is lost on many, and far beyond the sympathy I felt for Rousey for losing the fight there was the immense sadness I felt for the person inside her who took to that brutal stage after a year of self-reflection and found that she wasn’t enough to get the job done.

Many of us could see the positives here. The training has worth unto itself. The betterment of one’s skill, of one’s focus, of one’s physique. But all of that will be lost, I fear, in the crippling tidal wave of people who only care for their chosen fighter, and how they beat the once-undefeated Goliath.

But nobody is immune to the battle that Rousey fought for the year leading up to the fight. Not one of us has been excluded from times of self-doubt, self-loathing, of reliving our mistakes and our failures inside our own heads. But so few of us have had those failures broadcast so publicly, so shamelessly.

Fighters win. Fighters lose. But we seem to have gone beyond our ability and willingness to respect them as athletes and touch gloves and congratulate them on a good win, or a good fight. Now it’s all or nothing. We lift our champions on our shoulders and cast the loser into the gutter and cover them in trash.

A long, long time ago, a Roman writer named Cicero bemoaned the loss of heroism as a sign of the collapse of the Roman Empire. People had lost sight of virtue in favor of “bread and circuses,” the term coined for the Emperor’s plan to keep citizens pacified by giving them free food and the bloodshed of the gladiatorial games.

No one is immune from their own demons, but to watch someone fall and be the voice that’s willing to make their failure hurt more does more to damage us than it does to them. Holding onto hate or anger like that is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

But the reverse is also true. To hold kindness in your heart, to offer that, does as much to benefit you as it does them.

No one is immune to defeat, but how you treat the loser is an opportunity to create space for a greater future. It’s also, not coincidentally, an opportunity to be kinder to yourself.

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