The Need to Look Away From the Ball

Yesterday, my friend John and I spent the morning at Chautauqua Institute, where we attended a program in which Roger Rosenblatt interviewed Jim Lehrer. Although I occasionally watch the MacNeil Lehrer Newshour, I had not realized that Lehrer also writes novels and there was much in his comments about both writing fiction and reporting on the news that I found interesting.

One of the comments made by Rosenblatt in response to a question about reporting on episodic catastrophes vs. important systemic problems had to do with the need to “look away from the ball.” His analogy was to basketball. When we watch a basketball game, the tendency is to keep our eyes always on the ball; that is what is exciting to us to look at. The reality, however, is that most of the action of the game takes place away from the ball – the positioning of players, the defense, etc. Thus, if we want to see a fuller picture, a truer picture, we need to look away from the ball, something that is very hard to do.

I was intrigued by the analogy, which strikes me as a useful one for us to keep in mind. We might ask ourselves: How often do we try to solve a problem by looking at the big manifestation of it, rather than the surrounding circumstances that contribute to it? How much do we focus on one piece of an issue, neglecting the bigger picture?

We tend to think it is always good to keep our eye on the ball. But it is good to be reminded of the value of broadening our vision and making sure our focus on the ball is not keeping us away from where the real action of the game is.