Two scenes out of the week's newsreels are stuck in my mind: images of friendship and competition, winning and losing, and caring.
The first scene was a page one photo of Pam Shriver walking off the court at Forest Hills, arm in arm with Martina Navratilova -- the victor comforting the vanquished. The two friends who had just battled each other would soon again be doubles partners.
The next scene was relayed to me second-hand. It took place in the Senate chamber, where Bob Packwood was standing alone, filibustering against the Helms anti-abortion amendment. As he read from James Mohr's history of abortion, Jesse Helms entered. The senator from North Carolina put his arm around the senator from Oregon and together they walked around the floor as Packwood continued to read. Even in conflict, they rubbed shoulders.
If I were a photo editor, I would have written the same caption under these snapshots: No Hard Feelings. They were pictures of two people, on opposite sides of the net, on opposite sides of a political battle, reassuring each other that they could still get along, walk along.
They were, in that sense, portraits of pros. It's pros, after all, who learn how to fight wholeheartedly without feeling angry at the opposition. Without taking it personally.
This is a tough business for the bulk of us "amateurs." Few can manage it without training. Certainly not as kids. In my own childhood, when I disagreed with my father, he thought we were debating and I thought we were arguing. He sounded philosophical and I sounded angry. Only I took it personally.
Even today, I think it's hard for a lot of us to see competition -- for points or points of view -- without assuming personal conflict. An opponent is after all, someone out to "beat" you, someone you are supposed to "beat."
Maybe it's especially hard for women, raised to put relationships above games. In that context, even winning can seem mixed. As accomplished a victor as Pam Shriver had to say, "I have mixed emotions. I'm thrilled for myself, but I'm sad for Martina."
Politics are much more subtle than racquet sports, but no less intense. In the Senate, Packwood and Helms are disagreeing about something more fundamental than who has the stronger serve. They disagree about human values.
The old admonition, "Don't take this personally," breaks down when the issue is truly personal. I remember to this day the man who calmly explained to me the theory of women's inferior intelligence telling me, "Don't take this personally." How should I have taken it? As if I were a frog?
Human values are also "personal." There are times when it may seem inappropriate for senators to disagree so politely about such heated subjects. Most of us at one time or another have wondered whether coolness was really a lack of caring. Most of us have questioned people who are able to separate their emotions from their behavior.
Looking again at my mental photograph of the opposing senators walking the floor together, I also wonder: is this sane or phony? Are they behaving as gentlemen or old boys, civilized or clubby? Or just pragmatic?
By now I vote for pragmatism. Packwood and Helms, Navratilova and Shriver, after all, have something in common. They travel in the same circuit. They are opponents one day and partners another. There is more than the usual reason to keep the competition focused on making points rather than enemies. More than the usual reason to take it impersonally.
Eventually, I think, most of us have to learn this skill. In my own profession, people who wildly and publicly disagree with each other's point of view in print ask about each other's children in private.
In corporations, people who compete for position, who argue about goals and power, talk pleasantly in the hallways and the elevator. Even in that most personal arena, family, we may vote for different people and still make dinner together. Most of us struggle to make our differences reconcilable.
This lesson does have its emotional costs. It takes self-control to drain our confrontations of their personal venom. It also takes some understanding and some perspective to live with differences, even competition, without feeling personal conflict. I guess it takes a pro.