Like many sports-loving, competitive 9-year olds, my son Ezra loves to talk about rivals. While watching a football or basketball or soccer game on TV, he’ll point to the two teams and ask his daddy, “Are they big rivals?” He wants to know the stakes for that game, how important it is to the players and the fans.
And it doesn’t just apply to sports. He recently asked me about other rivalries. “Who’s Chick-Fil-A’s rival?” he asked. I guessed Kentucky Fried Chicken. Then he asked, “Who’s orange juice’s rival?” That one threw me. I thought a minute, then I answered that I thought it should be toothpaste because of what happens when a freshly brushed mouth takes a sip of orange juice. He rolled his eyes and said, “No, Mom, it’s apple juice.”
I asked him to explain his answer. He opened up the refrigerator and pointed to the spot where the orange juice and apple juice sat, side-by-side. “Daddy said rivals live close together,” he declared as he shut the refrigerator door and strutted away, proud of his profound analysis.
I’ve been thinking a lot about rivalry lately. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Watching Auburn play Alabama on a fall day is exciting. And when the game is over, fans from both sides go on with their weekends, (mostly) without hating each other. There are rivalries in business: Coke vs. Pepsi, Microsoft vs. Apple, McDonald’s vs. Burger King. These rivalries create a strong market where businesses are encouraged to compete for consumers’ cash with better products and prices.
But there are rivalries that shouldn’t exist, mostly created by a fear of being replaced or forgotten. A certain amount of sibling rivalry is to be expected, but when jealousy and mistreatment changes brothers and sisters from friends to enemies, it’s gone too far. Neighbors might compete for a “Best Yard” award, but beyond that they should be first and foremost neighbors—people on the same street and the same team.
The word rival shouldn’t be synonymous with enemy, a philosophy my 9-year old may have understood before I did. Ezra may be looking for rivalries because he loves the thrill of competition, but he isn’t looking for enmities, groups in an active state of hostility toward another. Though his competitive streak is often exhausting for me, I kind of love that he’s looking for orange juice vs. apple juice battles right now. Still, it breaks my heart to know his future won’t always be filled with well-meaning, carefree rivals. I know he’ll have his share of orange juice vs. toothpaste battles ahead, so I pray that we all get better at loving each other.