ChristineX.pngBy Ted Mallory, November 2002

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but cheerleaders learn it every year, usually in the searing heat and glare of the late summer sun at camp, long before the school year and the football season begin. The lesson is, Don’t look down. Put another way, attitude determines altitude.

Pilots know this. If you raise the aircraft’s nose up, the plane flies up. Cheerleaders have to learn this too; where your eyes go, your body tends to follow. If you look straight ahead at the crowd, you’ll keep your balance, look down, even for an instant, and your body will begin to lean.

Cheer is not the only sport in which this principle applies. A basketball shooter doesn’t watch the ball, to make a basket, they have to focus on the hoop. Golfers can try to follow their ball after they swing, but at that instant they follow through, they’d better be concentrating on where they want the ball to go if they want to avoid a wicked slice.

A few weeks ago PBS host Allan Alda talked to University of Arizona scientists about this on his show, Scientific American. It seems that whether it’s a tennis serve or a volleyball serve or a hunter after a pheasant, the principal is the same- where you look, there you go. Don’t look at the ball, look at where you want it to go, don’t look at the bird, aim at where you expect it to be the moment your shell reaches the same point in space.

If you don’t want to fall, don’t look down. Principles are things that can usually be applied in other areas of life. That’s why sports are good for kids, they learn valuable life lessons without even realizing it- a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Seems there have even been studies that suggest that while you’re walking down the street, if you tend to constantly be looking at the ground, your mood sours, whereas if you look up more, you’ll naturally become more upbeat, less tense, even happy. One theory is that when you look ahead or up, more light can make it into your eyes. In the fall and winter when days get short and clouds hide the sun or people stay inside all day, some people begin to suffer symptoms of what doctors call seasonal affective disorder (SAD). So looking up can literally, physiologically keep you “up.”

Let’s use our “don’t look down” principle as an analogy for other things.

Take people. If we expect the worse, they probably won’t disappoint us. If we’re critical of them or defensive toward them, they’ll treat us as we’ve treated them. If we look for even one good thing in them and appreciate it, we may even bring out the best in them.

Take politics. If a candidate focuses only on what’s wrong about his opponent, he or she only turns off the voter. America is fundamentally an optimistic place, voters want to know what the candidate’s hope and plans and qualifications are. Ever notice how when one person is looking up, everyone else starts looking up? We want to see what they see. “What is that? What are they looking at?” It’s compulsive. That’s leadership.

Take work. If you focus on how hard it is or how unpleasant, it only makes it more unpleasant. Time drags on when you watch the clock. If you focus on a goal or your accomplishments, it’s much easier.

Take business. If you focus on your obstacles, expenses or irate customers, you’re dooming yourself. If you focus on trying to build relationships, and on trying to provide your customers with what they want and need, you’re bound to succeed.

Take religion. There’s Law and Gospel, right? The Law shows us that this world is messed up because people are basically selfish and short sighted. What does that get us? It’s meant to humble us and make us realize that we need God. Great, but if we never stop focusing on how bad we are and how bad everybody is, we’ll never get on with living. The Gospel is the good news that God loves us even though we’re selfish and short-sighted. It shows us that He wants to have a relationship with us and He wants to help us be selfless and broaden our vision.

Take any problem we have or all of life for that matter. Take society in general. If we insist on always being critical or negative, where does that get us. Nowhere, stuck, stagnant, digging downward. But if we look forward or look up, guess what- we’ll at least stand firm and tall, at best, we’ll start moving forward.

Many a cheerleader who has the bruises to prove that “don’t look down” is one of the most important lessons anyone can ever learn.