Oprah interviewed Pema Chodron, a Buddhist monk, on her podcast recently.  Pema Chodron is an amazing teacher.  I’ve listened to most of her DVD’s and read the vast majority of her books.  In the podcast, she introduced a new concept that she calls “Just Like Me”.  She believes that deep down, we are all the same.  We all have innate kindness, we are all searching for happiness and striving to avoid suffering.  We are all the same.   All of us.  Regardless of race, age, socioeconomic status, interests, education, etc.  We are all the same.  What’s interesting is that we are all innately talented at identifying our differences.  Finding our commonality…well, that’s another story.  

Add competition of any sort and things get even more complicated.  But are they really?  I’ve competed in many venues in my lifetime.  Equestrian, mountain biking, road racing, field training, agility, and obedience.  Some venues have been more cutthroat than others.  People gravitate towards “us vs. them”.  Meticulously searching for any and all things that make us different.  But most obvious should be what we have in common.  We are all passionate about our sport/hobby.  We all invest an enormous amount of time and effort in it.  We are stepping outside our comfort zones to compete.  Sometimes we are happy with the outcome, other times we are not.  But we always come back for more.   

In any dog sports (or any sport at all for that matter) we have a LOT in common.  We all love dogs.  We all love training dogs.  We all set goals and work towards them.  Win, lose or draw, we are all taking the best dogs home.  We all have the courage to step into the ring.  We have all made mistakes.  We all continue to make mistakes.  We have all had days in the ring were nothing seems to go right.   But we all get over it.  We continue training and try again.  We all choose to spend this day or weekend at a dog show.   We are all competitors.  And we all deserve to be there. 

At my last trial a Grande Dame of obedience said to me in passing “I love watching you and your dogs in the ring.”  What a lovely thing to say!  Several days thereafter she passed away suddenly.  When I read about her passing, the first thing that came to mind was how sweet she was and how good her comment had made me feel.   I admired her for many other reasons and those came to mind as well.  But that brief encounter created a connection.  I didn’t know her personally.  I don’t know how she trained, what her beliefs or politics were, what her history or education was, what her nationality was.  But it didn’t matter.  We had something in common.  Our love of dogs and the sport of obedience.  And good sportsmanship.  I know that, in her honor, I will make more of an effort to connect with other competitors. 

At the end of the day, isn’t that what good sportsmanship is all about?  We may have many, many differences.  But on that day, in that venue, we all have something in common.  If we focus on that commonality, we can be more supportive, empathetic, and grateful.  We may choose to take a minute to encourage someone, help someone, compliment someone, or congratulate someone.   We may take a minute to thank the stewards that volunteer their time.  To be patient with them, especially since they are often working without enough help.  We may be grateful and appreciative of our judges.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with a call they make.  They are volunteering their time.  They are doing their best.  They are human and, just like us, they love dogs and our sport.  Without them, there are no trials.    

Wouldn’t it be lovely if all competitors at a trial focused on what we have in common?   We all started in Novice A.  We’ve all been dreadfully nervous.  We’ve all had great runs, and terrible runs.  We all love our dogs, we are all trying to be better trainers and handlers.  And maybe, instead of viewing other competitors as “them” versus “us”, just maybe, we can see that they are “Just Like Us”.  We can create an environment where everyone shines.  No matter what happened that day.  We can create an environment where we learn from one another, cheer for one another, and moan in empathy when a dog makes a critical mistake in the ring.  After all, we’ve all been there.   Shift your mindset just a little and you will realize that it actually is true….everyone at the trial IS “Just Like Me”.