By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

Among the many words and phrases that reflect our values and obsessions, GOAT and BOAT, will, I am convinced, serve us the least. GOAT, of course, refers to Greatest Of All Time. And BOAT, refers to Best Of All Time. Both are, of course, pretentious, self-congratulatory and, most of all, false.

These are usually used as sports metaphors, and as such are prone to glorification and exaggeration, but sports, like food and how we spend our money, reveals much about who we are.

The “World Series” after all, has little to do with the whole world, or even the world outside of that particular stadium and the game it holds.

In typical American fashion in the 2020s, we reduce something to its most basic fractional acronyms and make a word (or at least something like a word) out of it.

We love our superlatives

Those of us from all ages, backgrounds and industries love acknowledgements and award ceremonies. From the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Oscar Night, industry insiders recognize their best.

As we have seen with too many of these gatherings, they tend to veer into vanity projects with all kinds of politics, petty vendettas, jealousies and power-plays – and the occasional scandal or public fracas.

To honor innovation and achievement is always good. The intent, we presume, is to encourage development of skills, and widen support and awareness of the industry in general. And it seems to work.

Some schools acknowledge a “student of the week”, some businesses honor an “employee of the month”, man (or woman) of the year is an annual celebration, and some industries, as in the film industry, lifetime achievement awards have been given – but leave it to the sports world to advocate a “Greatest Of All Time” title.

“All time” of course means all of human history, which, at best is an exaggeration, but, even in a practical, realistic sense, it is pretentious and preposterous.

From football to the screen to politics, we love competition and rallying for “our” team.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown -Shakespeare, Henry IV. Part II

As we all know, (or at least should have learned by now) life as a “king of the hill” is by definition, putting one’s self as a target. One of the irreducible assumptions of the GOAT acclamation is that only one person (in all of history?) will achieve it. In other words, it is not a title, by definition, within reach of virtually any of us.

It’s difficult for me to imagine how anyone with the accolade of GOAT would be an inspiration or motivation to me – or anyone else. Let alone our culture at large. In fact the opposite seems to be the case.

In the annual World Happiness Report, for example, the USA rarely breaks the top ten, and in fact barely makes the top twenty. In most cases, these results come from self-reported life evaluations. To put it mildly, few of us seem to be believe that we, or our nation, is in the GOAT category.

What do those “most happy” nations know that we don’t?

It might seem counter-intuitive, and even un-American to some, but sometimes thinking about others is more effective at making us feel happy. And secure. And connected. And taken care of.

Being self-absorbed often leads us to, and keeps us beholden to a continual sense of being served with an ample side-dish of “that’s not good enough”.

So what do the “happiest” nations do differently?

The nations that are consistently in the “most happy” category do things more than a little bit differently. In Denmark, for example, the cultural attitude and atmosphere toward school and achievement in general, could not be more different than ours.

They don’t have a competitive school system. No advanced programs for gifted learners. The schools, by law, must all be equal, and the students must help each other rather than vie for recognition as “the best.” There are no rewards programs and no trophies for the students who get better grades. “Good enough” or at least a sense of satisfaction is possible – or at least more possible than carrying a constant sense of someone (if not everyone) trying to be better. You can see more on the dynamics of the Danish culture and its inclination toward “happiness” here.

We tend to love competition – and by that I mean constant paranoia if not anxiety – and a sense of “never good enough”. Which, even for a season, or a year, or certainly for “all time” will not be conducive to happiness or a sense of well-being.


The board game Monopoly is a prototypical American game. The premise is simple; the “winner” is the one who drives everyone else into bankruptcy. The “winner”, the one who, in terms of the game, is the “greatest” of them all, is the one who sabotages and demolishes the entire economy.

To put it mildly, this is no way to run a business – or a national economy.

It might not make a popular board game, but a far more enduring economic philosophy might be somehow rewarding and strengthening those who work for, even facilitate a more durable, inter-connected and entrepreneurial economic system – one that would welcome innovations and new voices.

A modest proposal

Perhaps it is not the best idea to glorify and makes “stars” out of celebrities, billionaires and sports figures.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that a far more solid, stronger and more resilient foundation for any sport, nation or economy would be one that welcomes and encourages all to participate and contribute rather than the GOAT mentality that turns achievers into out-of-reach heroes.

Our much heralded “heroes” all too often prove their fallibility by moral or ethical failures. Once the glory fades, or the next rising star takes their place, most of them realize that it took many hands to get them to their pedestal. And some of them even remember, or live out that ancient proverb that “pride goes before a fall”.

And as our headlines often show us, GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), after one too many scandals or betrayals, becomes ultimately remembered as a GLOAT – Greatest Loser Of All Time. Or even worse, the FLOAT – the most Forgettable Loser Of All Time.