Don’t Keep Score

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I’m an athlete and I love to keep score. I wear a GPS watch on all my runs so I can record my distance, time, and pace to see if I’m getting better. When I coached, I tried to make as much of practice a competition as possible so that my players would work hard for the experience of ‘winning.’ As a sales professional, I work with a weekly ‘scoreboard’ that our company calls a dashboard and shows how much each person has sold in relation to one another and towards our personal goals. I love to keep score because I love to win.

Recently, however, I’ve realized that there are certain areas of my life where I shouldn’t be keeping score. I was using a scoreboard in every part of my life and it was putting strain on relationships. Yesterday, I was perusing a craft shop in Asheville, NC and came across a piece of art that had “The Golden Rule” in 12 different religious backgrounds. In my faith background, Jesus told his followers: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:30). What is sometimes overlooked are the verses leading up to this powerful statement that include instructions such as “bless those who curse you…if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also…give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” It sounds to me like Jesus is saying: “Don’t Keep Score.”

There are 4 areas in particular that I am trying to stop using a scoreboard.

My marriage – When you keep a marriage scoreboard, both teams lose. Whether it is keeping track of how many times you’ve done the dishes or laundry and using that to guilt him in to washing the dishes for once or reminding her how many ‘girls nights out’ or ‘fun weekends with her friends’ she’s had so that you can justify spending an entire Saturday at the golf course; keeping score in marriage is dangerous. Your marriage scoreboard starts to lead to keeping records of hurts as well and hurting back to even the score, and it leads to arrogance about how good a parent you are because of all of the time you’ve spent with your kids and disgust with your partner for how absent they are with the family. Fortunately for me, my wife allowed me to invoke the ‘mercy rule’ a couple of years ago because I was getting slaughtered so bad I could never catch up. Ever since, I’ve just tried to remind myself of this Shinto teaching: The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form.

My kids – If my parents had kept score of all of the stuff they’ve done for me, all I’d do the rest of my life is try to repay them. I have decided the only way I can repay them is to do all I can to give as much love, caring, discipline, and direction to my kids as they gave me. Our children take so much of our time, there is no way they can ever give enough back to us to make things even, so instead I choose to keep in mind the words (slightly altered) of the philosopher Seneca: Treat your inferiors (children) as you would be treated by your superiors (parents).

My colleagues – For a long time, I kept a mental record of every good deed and favor I did for a colleague with an expectation that it would be paid back in some way. What I realized is that is a pretty miserable way to go through my work life. There are people that we work with that are not in a position to ever really help us – we should help them anyway. There are people who we work with who always need something from us and never offer any assistance our way – we should help them anyway. There are people who we work with who take advantage of our drive to succeed and take credit for our work – we should help them anyway. A good reminder in the workplace comes from Jainism: In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.

My friends – Friendships are hard enough without a scoreboard. If I ended every friendship that had a scar from a pain inflicted by that friend, I’d be a pretty lonely guy. If my friends only called me when I first called them, we’d never talk. Friendships will result in pain because friends can say things to one another that no one else can say to them and sometimes that hurts. Friends go through life together no matter what the other person’s life season is doing at the time; that means that sometimes one friend can’t pay for the boat rental because things are tight, but friends share experiences together anyway. Sometimes that means a whole weekend is spent discussing one friend’s personal or marital struggles and it monopolizes the conversation, but friends share grief and pain together anyway. Sometimes that means a friend has to say something to another friend that makes them mad, but friends hold each other accountable anyway. I think Islam gets this one right when it says: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

I’m still a competitor, probably always will be – so I need scoreboard. I’ll keep checking the sales scoreboard to keep me working hard, and I’ll always look at my watch to try to make my next PR in a race. But I’m done keeping score in the rest of my life. I’m just going to stick to what Jesus said in Matthew: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” 

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