I don’t know if I’m the only one to notice this…. Have you ever noticed that it’s no longer how we play the game that matters; it’s all about winning and losing? It’s no longer about the journey but about the end? From the highest echelons of political office down the the humblest individual people all want to be winners – they want to think of themselves and winners and have others think of them as winners. Winning has become everything. And losing has become an issue of placing blame, making excuses, and/or justifying the loss. Reacting angrily with cries of “NOT FAIR” when one loses and complaining about the loss does not reflect well on those who lose. I think this is a major warning sign for the future of humanity. I started thinking about this recently after a competition we had in our workplace. The team I was most closely affiliated with lost. They had such a difficult time with losing that they complained about it all day and following day. I had found it so ridiculous that they should react so badly. But, like I said, it got me thinking.
I think there may be several reasons for this lack of sportsmanship/gamesmanship behavior. The first is analysis or maybe more precisely over-analysis. Everyones got an opinion and they tear apart and nit-pick to the finest detail their own performance as well the performance of others. It is a “gaze” that lasts too long and is too rigidly detailed to ultimately be of any beneficial use; except, to justify and tear down. Now you may say, “what’s wrong with analyzing a situation to become better in the future?” Fair question. What IS wrong (I would argue) is that it does not necessarily make one better unless it makes them a better complainer, whiner when they lose in the future.
Another reason – and we will only see this get worse – starting with our children we teach them that everyone is a winner in events that just by participating you are a winner and so every single participant is given a ribbon or a trophy whatever the prize may be. This is completely unrealistic and we are setting up our children with unrealistic expectation when they grow up and enter the adult world. This is probably one of the greatest tragedies be we are, setting up our children for a lifetime of hurt, dissatisfaction, complaint, lack of acceptance and understanding of one’s position and ultimately this can lead to violence. And who’s fault is it? The children’s? Absolutely not – it’s the fault of the adults to taught them.
I also think that a very likely reason is the switch of emphasis from individual performance to team performance which has only increased with the rise of professional sports. Everyone has “teams” now – even businesses, social organizations, political parties – it seems like absolutely everything is subdivided by the concept of team. And this has completely changed the value of individual performance. Individuals are not fully accepted, “you must be part of a team”, “you must support your team” I personally think this is damaging and ultimately de-values the individual and encourages group-think and sycophantic behavior. Failure to value individual uniqueness and seeing how an individual fits in the bigger picture will lead to the downfall and failure of many groups.
Technology. Okay I can see some of you rolling your eyes thinking, “he’s gonna start bashing technology”. Actually have no intent of doing that. Technology is a wonderful tool that we can use to learn, grow and expand our knowledge, understanding and acceptance of not only ourselves, but also of others. Now, like many things humans have created, technology is a double-edged sword. And information technology has the sharpest edge on that sword. Media and internet make EVERYTHING more immediate (well, more-or-less until the recent battles over net neutrality). As a species that has created these tools we are in our infancy in understanding both the benefits and pitfalls of such tools. And there are pitfalls. I would argue that one pitfall is that with such immediacy of all manner of information we have become less discerning in our consumption and digestion of information. Because there is alway “this…”, then “this… again”, “this…. recycled”, “This…. regurgitated”, “this… analyzed yet again” We are in a psychotic state of always reacting to the next thing and not stopping to digest what was first consumed. One reason I think we do this is that with this omnipresence of new and incessantly recycled information creates the illusion that it is ALL important. And quite frankly, it is NOT that important. In fact I suspect probably 90 percent of all information in the media and on the internet is pointless and without value – much like our excess consumption of sugar in our diet. We don’t need al the sugar that we eat but it sure tastes good and therefore we train our bodies to think that it is important. The media and internet is the same way. It is an addiction. In fact manufacturers are continually looking for new technologies to “connect” us to the so-called information super-highway. But I suspect that at some point what will happen is that just like too much sugar causes our bodies to shut down – too much information will result in a intellectual shut-down. All of this information with it’s immediacy and fraudulent self-importance further exacerbates the differences between winning and losing.
I also think we need to look at religion and how it has become an unwitting disciple to the secular concepts of winning and losing. Many religions view their followers as “the chosen one” with some notion of reward for being part of that group and yes I have seen many that reward people for following while condemning those who have a different way to go. I once volunteered at a homeless shelter for nearly 4 years. Over the course of that time I saw clients rewarded and given favoritism and opportunities just because they learned to talk the talk – but look out because one slip and they were gone. I used to laugh at the news letter for the homeless shelter which was used for soliciting funding and support – because their feature story was for someone that was actually kicked out of the shelter because of a mistake they made. This would happen on a regular basis. There was talk of unconditional grace and forgiveness at the shelter but I hardly ever saw it. Yet it goes on because it has become a community institution. It’s existence has become more important than its mission which is sadly what can be said of most religions and religious organizations. These institutions reward the “winners” and disavow the “losers”.
Celebrity is the final thing that I think causes us to understand the value of losing. In our media and “image” driven culture Celebrities are adored and worshiped. Throughout the history of humanity Celebrity has existed. But with the rise of media celebrity became more entertainment driven. And not only the building up of celebrity but also the tearing down of celebrity. This is a cultural disease that MUST be treated. How does celebrity contribute to the malaise of winning and losing? Celebrities are revered, even worshiped. They are people that others look up to. And because of that, even though they try to deny it – they are de-facto role models for society at large. So many people see celebrities as the only ones who’s voices matter. Many people strive toward celebrity because celebrities are “winners” – But this is part of the great lie. And media technology and the internet displays every single moment of a celebrities life – and for those who follow any given celebrity they “see” what is and isn’t acceptable they judge their own lives by what that celebrity says and does. And when a celebrity falls out of favor people simply move on the the next celebrity – because there’s always one just waiting to take your attention and adoration. It’s all part of “winning.”
Is there any good news? Can we bring the “game of life” back into balance where winning and losing is less of a criticism and more of an evaluation of where things stand? Yes. I’m happy to say there is good news but it will require self-discipline our each of our parts to self-regulate our consumption of media and information. It will require that we look outside of our own beliefs and ideas, seeking to understand and accept differing viewpoints. It will require we be patient with ourselves but mostly with others; because in our current self-centered cultural milieu it will be difficult to see others progressing as fast as ourselves – so we must be patient with them. We must learn to lose and as we learn to do that and accept loss then we will be able to help others in the process.
We need to understand and accept the following facts; yes, we need to do our best but there will always be someone better. Someone will always interpret the rules differently than you. The rules are always changing. The winning moment if over so quickly – it’s only a temporary high. There are ALWAYS more losers than winners. You will lose more than you will win. Acceptance is not defeat. Learning to lose is a great gift. Losing is something that should be taught with grace, understanding and compassion. It’s okay to lose – that’s life. To be a good loser – that’s grace.
I’ve recently been watching old Olympic films. One thing that struck me is the Oath that is taken. To be more precise. the Oath when it was first taken in the 1920 Olympics. “Chivalry”, “Honour” and “the glory of sport”. These apply to everyone. These qualities are the great equalizer between winning and losing. It is about individual values and the value of the individual (whether they play on a team or not).
We swear. We will take part in the Olympic Games in a spirit of chivalry, for the honour of our country and for the glory of sport.
Final consideration: when you win – you’ve got no place to go. When you lose you always have someplace you can go.
Well, this has been one of my wordier posts so if you’ve made it this far – I am grateful and eager to hear your opinions and views on these ideas.