There’s more to life than “winning”

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

If there was ever a phrase that did not age well, this would be it.

I grew up with this as the benchmark of honest and diligent competition in any arena.

In sports in particular, it was a given that, if you lost, you would not be a “sore loser”.

Integrity and honor – for winner and loser – was seen as integral to the encounter – and all future encounters.

As I mentioned, this was a principle to be applied in every conceivable situation – friendships, business deals, politics, and sports, among many arenas of life.

There were “rules of engagement” even in war. Prisoners or war, for example, were to be treated humanely.

War crimes were defined as “crimes against humanity” – assaults literally against the idea of being human.

The core premise was that male or female, old or young, this ethnicity or that ethnicity, this nationality or that nationality, wherever you were born, what ever color or religion you were, respect for basic human decency was a given.

As I go over these words, I can barely read them without a heavy dose of pathetic irony.

Yes, they were how I was raised, and I absorbed them eagerly. I was one of those kids, (I know it seems absurd now) who actually wanted games and sports to be fun.

I had this hopelessly naive idea that kids should play together to enjoy each other, develop skills, and learn new things – not to “win”. And certainly not aspire to create “losers”.

We all knew that we would play together again and that once labeled “a cheater,” playing together would never be the same – or might never happen again – at least with the same unspoken level of trust.

The most courageous act in politics is to try to understand your opponent. - Alain de Botton

Ever hear of people who “win the battle and lose the war”?  These are the people who might win the argument, or the business deal or even the literal combat on the battlefield but at the cost of the relationship, the business or the literal war.

But now such a philosophy, this principle of playing fair and being a gracious winner, seems naive and archaic to the point of absurdity.

It might not always be "profitable" but I can't think of a better definition of a people or culture. Photo by Morf Morford

It might not always be “profitable” but I can’t think of a better definition of a people or culture. Photo by Morf Morford

In Congress, on the sports field, even on the battle field, “winning” is not, to use a popular phrase, not only a goal, it is the only goal.

Winning, at “any cost” or “by any means necessary” has become the rallying cry of political ideologues of every stripe.

And it has taken us the only place it could take us – into a time and atmosphere of defending a cause, not because it is right, or the best or even because we agree with it, but because it is ours.

Mocking, attacking and demonizing those who disagree with us has become the norm.

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.  - Isaac Newton

Those of us who appeal to fairness, decency or civil conversation are greeted to pitiable looks and even more mocking – “Where has ‘civility’ gotten you?” “Loser!”

Fair enough. I can’t really say that going out of my way to be fair and respectful – even to strangers or those who could never “pay it back” has been terribly profitable or conducive to financial success, my career trajectory or even financial stability.

“Winning” has never really been my objective.

In fact “winning” for the sake of winning always seemed kind of shallow to me.

Like most people, I marvel and cheer at the accomplishments of Olympic athletes, but I also know that the real challenger, the most unrelenting competitor is yourself.

I love the idea of facing down one’s own challenges and difficulties. What ever became of the idea of self-discipline and mastering a craft – not to be better than anyone else, but to be better than anything you ever imagined you could do?

Anyone remember Charlie Sheen’s drug fueled ramblings about “winning” a couple of years ago?

To put it mildly, his thoughts on “winning” were not the highlight of his career. In fact it would be easy to make the argument that his gloating about “winning” was the end, not the beginning, of any realization of his potential.

I am the cause of all my upsets. I am my worst enemy.  - Chuck Palahniuk

I try to be careful when I am in an argument with someone about something I – and they – deeply care about.

We stake out our positions and take our stand – convinced, above all, that we are right.

And that the other person is wrong, deceived,or worse.

I, who have studied rhetorical strategies extensively and have, because I am a voracious reader, almost always a far deeper and wider body of knowledge on the topic than my adversary could, at least technically, “win” almost any argument.

But this person is not really my adversary – they are my friend, neighbor or relative.

I could overwhelm them with facts, undermine their credibility (and their sources) and dazzle them with my research, analysis and developed and thoughtful conclusions.

In other words, most of the time I could “win” the argument.

But what would I really be “winning”?

My opponents are unlikely to change their minds. By “winning” I could easily break the accumulated trust between us. By “winning” the argument, I would be losing far more.

He that is taken and put into prison or chains is not conquered, though overcome; for he is still an enemy.  - Thomas Hobbes

The relationship, whether financial, family or romantic, is almost always more important than any opinion, however convincing.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.  –Mark Twain