Two Arm Wrestlers

Why People Love Underdogs and Hate the Powerful

I have a bias to always root for the underdogs. In baseball, I tell everyone my favorite teams are the Cubs… and whoever is playing the Yankees. When it comes to football, it’s the Colts and whoever is playing the Cowboys. In sports I don’t follow, I pay attention only when the underdog – the unlikely Cinderella – is building noticeable momentum. Perhaps that is why I’m a sucker for movies like Rocky, the Mighty Ducks, and the Karate Kid. 

I think this is true for a large portion of the population – it’s probably why David vs. Goliath is one of the most well-known and oft-told accounts of the Bible. We like to see the underestimated challenger overpower the unbeatable giant. 

The trope is great for sports and film, but let’s get real. 

In business and society, rarely do we hear accounts of Davids felling Goliaths. And even when it does happen, it’s quickly dismissed as a fluke or anomaly. Plus, in those rare moments, the giant has the means to quickly remedy the circumstances that made unlikely twists of fate happen. Often, that means buying the competitor and ingesting only what they want before shuttering what remains.   

By now, I would guess you are probably relating – at least somewhat – to this narrative. Heck, you may even be casting yourself in one of the two roles; most likely that of David. But now consider the possibility that you may be more Goliath than David!

The Hero’s Journey

Before I elaborate on why I make such a boisterous (and perhaps angering) claim, let’s talk about “the hero’s journey.” 

You’ve seen the hero’s journey on screen and in print. It begins with an ordinary world depicting normal life for the eventual hero before receiving a call to adventure. That call is resisted until the hero encounters a mentor or gains advice compelling him or her toward the journey ahead. Or something happens, making him or her really mad and they just can’t take it any longer.

The hero leaves the ordinary (comfortable) world to learn the rules and customs of the new and adventurous world. During this time, the hero is tested, makes alliances, and faces resistance. Of course, setbacks happen, and the hero faces a big obstacle. The hero gets rewarded and returns to ordinary life. Some tales end here. Others keep the narrative going by resurrecting the hero to face a final all-or-nothing test. 

Naturally, the underdog hero prevails and returns with knowledge or newfound ability to better the world for everyone they know. 

Too often, we suffer from “hero syndrome” by selfishly wanting our legacy tied to such heroic acts. 

An Underdog Arm Wrestling
The world loves an underdog story. And the Bible has many. We also love justice and dream of a world without poverty. What we often don’t realize or accept, though, is that we may be the reason there is injustice and poverty.

An Understanding of Justice

While training with would-be Faith and Finances facilitators, we concluded by going around the room and saying something specific about one of the other facilitators. I was taken aback when someone I considered to be quite intelligent, introspective and grounded said; “Chad, you have a really good understanding of justice.”

It took me by surprise because I didn’t understand what he meant. Prior to that moment, I considered justice simply as deeming guilty or innocent. I shared a lot of insight I had gleaned from my career as well as growing up in an impoverished household. I pointed out when unfair stereotypes or generalizations were being cast. And I corrected some myths that lead to bias or misconceptions. This gentleman clearly heard me, analyzed the things I spoke and summed me up better than I could.

Justice is not a matter of right versus wrong. And it’s not a matter of winners and losers. It’s a matter of equity and compassion.

Poverty and Identifying the Poor

With regards to poverty, Jesus pretty much lays it all out in John 12:8 by saying, “You will always have the poor among you,[a] but you will not always have me.”

However, I have found that one of the most misguided perceptions exists in the concept of “poverty.” As I see it, poverty does not just mean having no money. On the same vein, poor does not mean having no money.

Poor may be a matter of weak resolve. Poor may mean a broken spirit. Poor may mean someone being stuck in a feeling of irrelevance. These poor spirits are mired in poverty. But it does not mean they are lacking in money. In fact, I would guess that some of the most fiscally wealthy people are also some of the most impoverished of spirit.  

When we are experiencing poverty of spirit, we are emotionally distraught. We experience loss of hope. Isolation, despair, frustration, depression and overwhelming sadness are just a few of the conditions accompanying our poverty. We begin to feel meaningless and insignificant. That we don’t matter.  

Quite simply, our poverty of spirit makes us feel invisible.

Oppression and Hating our Oppressors

I feel like I talk and blog about my upbringing and the destitute nature of it a lot. Honestly, I don’t like doing it, but – like it or not – it is a narrative that is real and factual. I mention it only when appropriate because the last thing I want is someone to view me as a charity case or with pity. Also, I don’t want people to think I am trying to play the “woe is me” card, or that I consider myself a victim. 

Most of my upbringing, though, tells a narrative of feeling like I never had enough, or that I was not good enough. Because of that, I generated a lot of internal resentment towards those who outwardly appeared to be otherwise. The unfortunate thing is the reality that much of that resentment was unfairly directed.

To explain this, I am going to lay out some simple truths that may hurt (and I fully expect that not everyone will agree with me).

You Are Being Oppressed

The first truth is that you are being oppressed. 

One of the rules I try to remind myself to live by is the saying that “the smartest person in the room is the one who realizes they are not the smartest person in the room.” It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Even if we have the highest IQ, it does not mean we cannot learn from others. In life, there will ALWAYS be someone who has more than you. That may be money. Or it might be intelligence or talent. Wisdom, experience, or perhaps personal charisma.

As we encounter those souls, we have a few options. For one, we could go to battle by casting ourselves as the underdogs and face our Goliath’s. Conversely, though, we could also choose love. No, it’s not a situation of keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Instead, why must someone be your enemy – especially if they are your enemy solely because they excel in a realm where you are lacking?

In fact, God wants you to know you are lacking. Why? Because that’s how he makes us realize and remember his ultimate strength and grace. 

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. – Matthew 5:3 MSG

Where it becomes problematic is when we involve our egos. When the Goliath you are working with steamrolls  those around them in pursuit of their goals and ambitions, it’s unfortunate. They are – in no way – a servant leader.  Instead, they’ve allowed themselves to be a self-serving leader. Even worse, they’ve deprived the greater community of experiencing the combined strengths of a bigger collective. 

You Are Oppressing Others

In life, there will ALWAYS be someone who has less than you. That thing for which others have less may be money. Or, it may be less talent, or wisdom, or even personal charisma. Whatever it is, someone has more of it than you. And, if we’re not careful, we cast ourselves into the role of a superior, probably not even realizing we are lording our wealth over them.

Are you a servant leader who seeks to lead a greater community to collectively rise up? Or, are you a self-serving leader looking to be the hero of the story? Hero syndrome easily runs rampant. 

Acknowledge that YOU are presenting yourself as a Goliath to the David’s around you. Don’t give them reasons to sling stones. 

How to Go Forward in Love

“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. – Matthew 6:2-4 MSG

Recognize that you may be unintentionally oppressing someone in your sphere of influence. This may be an unfortunate casualty of your zeal or personality. It may be a controlling self-nature. It could be your own perfectionist behavior. 

What you might not realize, though, is that you quest for what you believe is best is hurting others. Your unrelenting desire to see your own vision come to life, is blurring or extinguishing the visions off others who may have similar desires, but less means for doing so.

The answer is not to quit or give in on everything. However, the answer does lie in including others. Making them feel visible. Showing them – not just telling them – that their opinions are valued.

An unexpected (and unsolicited) compliment. Public praise. Giving away credit or even taking blame. These are simple things that go a long way toward building up others, and turning underdogs into contenders.  

And when God’s people are contending together for God, the world will take notice. 


By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third?
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.

– Ecclesiastes 4:12 MSG

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