Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Addition by Subtraction: Beyond Yasiel Puig

excessive celebration for a triple
One of my favorite expressions is "addition by subtraction." I was reminded of it this morning as I listened to something that I never get tired of hearing: the local San Francisco Giants' radio station harp on the Los Angeles Dodgers. That's right, Murph and Mac of the the KNBR radio show delighted in sharing excerpts from a book due out during the All Star break "The Best Team Money Can Buy."

Anyone who has coached, managed or taught understands "addition by subtraction." Sometimes we gain by losing, someone or something. We can be better off by cutting ties and letting go. We have all heard "less is more." It applies to the spiritual life as well.

Yasiel Puig has played for the Dodgers since 2013. In that time he has batted close to 30o is known for his power hitting. Most opposing pitchers consider him to be a notable threat. But he has also proven to be a threat to team unity. And to continue the math metaphor, it's not that Puig is divisive in the clubhouse. It's ≥ than that. He might do more harm than good. Jeff Passan writes:

While some issues, like his habitual tardiness for games, have abated this year, according to sources, Puig's work ethic in batting practice and the wfeight room continue to bother some teammates. Much of the hostility stems from a general sense of entitlement shown by the 24-year-old. During spring training this year, as Knight writes and multiple sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports, Puig argued with teammates over who should be allowed on a plane ride that typically includes wives and girlfriends. The subject of someone from Puig's entourage joining the traveling crew came up, and sources told Yahoo Sports that Puig argued with pitcher Zack Greinke and nearly came to blows with infielder Justin Turner over the matter.

No player is perfect—far from it. But building a team is already hard work. It demands drawing an athlete out of him or herself and thinking about others as much as yourself (ideally more). Passan adds, "Inside the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse, the contempt some teammates hold for outfielder Yasiel Puig is no longer a secret limited to whispers. They discuss it openly, resigned to the fact that the Dodgers don't plan to trade their mega-talented right fielder no matter how deep the animus runs."

When a high profile athlete brings a sense of entitlement and holds a questionable work ethic to a professional environment, you have to evaluate their worth. 

"We've talked about this," one Dodgers player told Yahoo Sports. "At 
this point, it would be addition by subtraction."

I have no tolerance for entitlement. Its opposite is gratitude.
This past year we had 107 girls on the cross country team. While I would love to think it was wonderful for so many young women to have the opportunity to compete, be a member of a team and develop a life long love of running, the truth of the matter was something different. 

Cross country is a hard sport. Although there's a cliche that states "you can run but you can't hide," we found a lot of girls did quite the opposite. They weren't interested in running, and so they hid—in the bushes, behind tress, in the bathroom or locker room. When caught, the excuses were many. Ultimately, those who suffered were the athletes were on task, who wanted to improve and make the most out of the sport. I don't know how many times we said it was time to "trim the fat." Meaning, toss away what is unhealthy and tenderize the meat. In short: addition by subtraction.

Had we added by subtracting, we could have given more time to our top 15 runners. We could have reached the runners on the cusp with better training, coaching and attention to detail. Addition by subtraction frees one up to see what they have, and can change the perspective away from what is getting in the way.

As I thought more about this expression I couldn't help but think about how it relates to the spiritual life; in particular the virtue of forgiveness. When we let go of the hurt and the grudge, we add joy and peace. Subtracting hatred or contempt, we add love. It's no easy task...far from it, which is why I think the saying is so important.

And because it is challenging, I started to think of a spiritual exercise that might allow us to become familiar with adding by subtracting. I was reminded of what William O'Malley wrote in the article Teaching Empathy. The paragraph is entitled "Check out the Closets." He says, 
Yet another way of developing a sense of humanity (grace builds on nature or not at all) is simply to ask kids to go through their closets and drawers and pick out anything they haven't worn in a year. Obviously, they have no remote need of it, and it could save someone's life--or at least give them a momentary lift. And even in a worst-case scenario, where the Salvation Army driver steals all the best and fences it for money-in the first place, you'll never know· that, and. in the second place, your compassion and generosity have done something very good inside you.
I have made a point of regularly going through my closet to determine if I need all that I have. When I have the tendency to hold onto something, I challenge myself to let it go. We don't gain virtue in practicing that which is easy—we need to stretch ourselves toward the good, the loving and the just. 

As St. Francis has said "in the giving that we receive." When I give, (especially what I don't need away), I am able to see more clearly all that I have. The paradox remains, by subtracting what I have, I gain more than virtue—I add appreciation. Give it a shot...or maybe I should say "add it to your life."

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