It’s Only a Game…

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“I have always been accused of taking the things I love – football, of course, but also books and records – much too seriously, and I do feel a kind of anger when I hear a bad record, or when someone is lukewarm about a book that means a lot to me.”
― Nick HornbyFever Pitch

In my last blog post I offered a tiny glimpse into who I am as a person by revealing that I am “of a nervous disposition”. This week I will open that door slightly wider and confess that I have, on more than one occasion, been accused (often by myself) of feeling too much. I get too invested in things that I probably shouldn’t. I feel anger and affection and hurt and disappointment towards fictional characters who only exist on screen and paper. I cringe and feel an intense, physical discomfort on behalf of people who have done something embarrassing or are trapped in an awkward situation – even if they themselves seem quite capable of merely laughing it off. I take it personally when the things that have brought meaning to my life aren’t revered in the same sort of way by the people around me. The list goes on and on and it can get quite tiring.

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I have often pondered over who to blame for this affliction. Maybe it’s genetic. I know that my mom is a woman of strong emotions but I’ve never seen her tear up during a TV advert or morally judge someone because they don’t think Joss Whedon is tantamount to a god. I have read enough psychology books and journal articles to recognise that I tip the introvert / extrovert scale quite steeply towards introvert, and supposedly I am meant to think and feel more deeply about things simply in virtue of that. Or maybe it’s because of my educational background as a Philosophy student that makes me overthink and in turn, “over feel”. But for me the overarching question is actually not “why do I care too much?” but rather, “why is this seen as a bad thing?”

The 17th of August was a big day for me. That was the day that my life began again. You see, unlike your world where things begin in January and run through until December, my life starts in August and ends in May, completely shutting down in June and July. That is because my life revolves around football; the English Premier League to be more specific and Manchester United to be exact. When it comes to caring too much, football is my biggest weakness, and perhaps even the root cause of it all. I really shouldn’t care so much. I shouldn’t plan my life around the fixture list, often to the detriment of my social life, and I most certainly shouldn’t let results dictate my mood. After all, it’s only a game. Isn’t it?

But that’s where football truly stumps anyone who is not on the inside (and there is an inside); because quite clearly it isn’t only a game. Those of us lucky (or unlucky) enough to be on the inside understand that supporting a football team isn’t about cheering on 11 players as they chase a leather ball. It’s about believing in something greater than yourself and finding a sense of belonging. And it doesn’t come easily. It takes years of hard work and dedication. But once you are inside you find yourself part of a new family, where you share all of the same hopes and dreams. And it brings with it such an immense and powerful array of emotions, unparalleled to anything you can experience in “real life”. And once you’re in, it’s hard to get out, no matter how badly you might want to. Just ask an Arsenal fan today.

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But as with all of the other things that I have been told I “care too much about”, being a true football fan carries a hefty judgement from society. As Nick Hornby writes in his autobiographical novel Fever Pitch, when we become adults we aren’t supposed to go mad about anything, we’re supposed to keep a lid on it. Getting all emotional over something that is “only a game” is simply childish.

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But to these “outsiders” I would again draw from Mr Hornby and point out that I have loved Manchester United and wanted them to do well for as long as I can remember. Do you remember what you wanted when you were a child? Do you still want it now? Maybe there’s a big piece of you that’s gone missing somewhere along the way. I, on the other hand, have come to care about some things so much that they have played a crucial role in shaping who I am. What’s childish about that?

This brings me back to my philosophical background and my perhaps somewhat unhealthy obsession with Plato. In particular, it takes me back to the wise words of Socrates who once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I think he might have been on to something, and perhaps it’s just clutching at straws, but it most certainly offers me comfort when I am “caring too much”. I am not overly emotional, or childish or unhinged; I am merely more introspective, constantly examining all aspects of my life to develop a more meaningful and worthwhile existence. So “na na na naaaaa na”!

And it’s not just Socrates who I can use in my defence. Esteemed philosopher and psychoanalyst Jonathan Lear has spent much of his career developing his theory of Therapeutic Action. Among other things, Lear asserts that our existence is not stable and unchanging; we are constantly in the process of shaping ourselves, of becoming a certain kind of person, and this process is continuous and unending.

Lear also argues that in order for us to live meaningful lives we need to change the way in which we react to the facts of our lives. We can’t always control what we believe but we can control how we believe it. For Lear, if we engage more sincerely with our emotions and react more feelingly towards the facts of our lives, we will discover a new sense of vibrancy to life.

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As children we have this vibrancy. We love unconditionally; pursuing interests with passion and intensity in a constant voyage of discovery. But somewhere along the way we forget how to do that. Or we’re told not to. As though you are who you are now and there is no longer room for growth and discovery. Lear believes that this disengagement from our emotions fractures our psyche and leads to us not necessarily being depressed, but definitely not being as satisfied with our lives as we should be. He argues that until you go through a therapeutic process of re-engaging with your emotions and re-examining meaning in your life, you will be trapped in a dispassionate and drab state.

As the saying goes, “Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional”. Nick Hornby said that, “growing up is governed by the will, one can choose to become an adult, but only at given moments…and one can ignore these moments or seize them.” But it would seem as though the pressures of modern living have brought about more and more of these moments and that pressure has increased to always seize them.

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Author JM Barrie, the very man who brought to life Peter Pan – the boy who never grew up, once said that, “If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up”. Now, I’m not advocating that we should all down our tools and go in search of Neverland, but I am agreeing that it should never be below an adult’s dignity to embrace a moment with the reckless abandon that we seem to have lost in our “maturity”.

In closing, in order to live a meaningful and fulfilled life, I don’t think that it’s absolutely necessary to become engrossed in the Harry Potter series and to bawl your eyes out every time she kills off one of your favourite characters. Nor do I think it’s absolutely necessary to join the Manchester United family. (Although I would highly recommend both) I do however think that it is necessary to constantly reflect on what is most important to you and what makes you who you are, and most importantly, to never be ashamed of it! Climb trees, play Pokémon, listen to the Spice Girls and cry in Disney movies. Live!

“Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more.”

~ Oscar Wilde

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