The Royals’ recent climb from oblivion has generated inspiration and consternation among some fans, as we try to decide how much emotional capital to invest in the remainder of the season. If the Royals keep winning, will we feel bad for not expressing sufficient belief or righteous for never doubting? If they fade away, was it foolish to dream otherwise or prudent to stay detached? Fandom is an ever-shifting sand-painting blending the dark grains of reason with the sparkling grains of hope, forming a pattern unique to each of us but recognizable to all of us.
Why do you believe what you believe, and how do you know what you know? Our minds are capable of great leaps of faith and great feats of calculation. We can glance into oncoming traffic and instantly assess the jaywalking safety coefficient without an academic grounding in physics, yet be utterly certain that we’re smarter than the average person despite running across the path of that SUV to save waiting a few seconds for the light to change.
Reason gives us a context for belief. If we hadn’t understood just how unlikely a Royals comeback would be in the 2014 Wild Card game, or the 2015 ALDS, would those victories have been as sweet? Knowing and discussing how many obstacles the 2016 Royals must overcome to achieve a third playoff run will help us enjoy success even more and temper our disappointment at failure. It is not treason to discuss reality; a parent may love and believe in their child, while still accepting their limitations. And it is not crazy to have hope; an applicant can dream of acing an interview and landing a job despite holes in a resume. Reason prepares us; hope inspires us.
If our fandom happened alone, this wouldn’t matter so much. But for most of us, our fandom is defined in part by other fans; that’s why we invest time reading articles and comment threads. Few have the fortitude to root or rant alone. And so, in sports as in life, our own beliefs and principles inevitably come into contrast with others, and how we manage that interaction determines the fate of nations and neighbors and nincompoops on the ‘net.
However we choose to be a fan, how we project that fandom matters. Humble faith earns respect; zealous faith breeds resistance. Moderate reason earns consideration; condescending reason breeds backlash. There are many ways to be a fan or a citizen, and when we judge any group or way of thought by its loudest or most strident members, we do ourselves a disservice. But we might consider guarding against becoming that loud and strident member ourselves, though it’s a natural response especially when challenged by others.
In most contexts, we should feel safe discussing our beliefs and our reasons. But we should also ensure that we are speaking to others, not really to ourselves, and that we’re doing so in a way that others will want to hear. Like all rights, freedom of speech must be tempered by self-control and respect. That way, we can be fans and friends, choosing WAR over war.