power in words and pictures

When Everyone's a Winner, We Lose

When Everyone’s a Winner, We Lose

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. ~C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

“You won!” I congratulated my great-nephew after our race across my brother’s yard.  I suppose I could have tried a little harder, but I am forever trying to help someone else be a winner, and since he is only 3 it seemed like a wise move on my part. While catching my breath from the sprint across the yard (replete with mole hole booby traps to catch the heel of a well-dressed woman), I was greeted with a few words from the winner of the race.
“You don’t get a trophy,” he remarked.
“I don’t?” I questioned.
“No, only the winner gets a trophy,” he informed me.
Screwtape might have been on to something. We are eating away at one of our foundations when we negate the value of the win and remove the sting of the loss.

Still believing that it was good to let Briggs win our race, I have come to realize that I might have forfeited the only race I could have legitimately won against him, now that I know that only winners are actually going to win — I’m getting no younger, and he will be getting no slower. A few takeaways from our race that I’ll share with you:

  1. Kick off your shoes when racing on uneven ground.
  2. Laughing when you run uses up too much oxygen
  3. Losing a race doesn’t make you a loser in life

The first two lessons are important, but running barefoot in a yard shared with a dog doesn’t seem any wiser than running in heels, and I don’t know how to not laugh, so we’ll just move to lesson three: Losing a race doesn’t make you a loser in life, but giving me a trophy when I lost would have really diminished the value of his win.  The premise of giving everyone a trophy seems to be about making everyone feel rewarded for the work they’ve done even though the results might not have been indicative of their effort.  Actually, I understand that thinking.

My good friend ran in a political race recently, and I was her trusty sidekick.  She dodged a lot of things in her race as I did in my brother’s back yard.  As any runner knows, it isn’t nearly as much about being the winner of a race as it is about being able to finish.  In both of our races, we ran because something bigger than we were called us to compete. For both of us, running in a race that could help someone else (in her case to effect great change) mattered more than the risk of bruised egos and tired bodies.  At the end of our respective races, I did not receive a trophy and she did not receive the most votes. Losing our races didn’t leave either of us feeling like losers., though.

You might have young children and feel it’s necessary to reward all of them so that no one has to deal with the harsh reality of losing, but if they can learn at three that only the winner gets the trophy, it will serve them well for years to come.  You have the power to teach them that not winning (losing) doesn’t make a person a loser but instead gives them the opportunity to appreciate the efforts of the ‘winner’ and to learn things they might have done differently to be more effective.

Set your ego aside and congratulate your opponent. Set aside your need to make sure everyone feels like a winner and teach children that those who don’t win aren’t necessarily losers.  We all have lessons to learn, and sometimes those come in our wins, but sometimes they do not. I think Briggs’ parents are on the right track.

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