I belong to a group where we meet once a month eat a meal together and decide after presentations of two charities which one we should give money to at this time. Now that seems simple enough but the presenters are viewed by some as if in some mortal combat to grasp the hearts and pocketbooks of the group. If only I had known this when I was making my presentations I would have bribed some of the members to assist me in winning the vote. You know they could cough excessively during the other’s presentations and ask harsh questions. They then could, during my presentations, ooh and ahh and ask softball questions. And if someone asked me a question I was not prepared for I could have bellowed with indignation, ‘I cannot tell you the truth. You cannot handle the truth’ or maybe I could have teared up and said it would mean everything to me if you vote for my group. Of course this would cost me money I could give to the charity and fake crying might cost me a little of my dignity but I would have ‘won’. But maybe there is another way to view life besides winning and losing.
Our society promotes winners and losers in most everything we do. In fact one candidate from New York running for president of the United States proclaims that he will make Americans winners again because he is a winner. And why is he a winner because he has more stuff than the rest of us. This tradition of winning is deeply embedded in the American way. We tell ourselves we are a special country. Such phrases and concepts as exceptionalism, city on a hill, the last great hope of democracy and so forth have been force fed to our psyche since the beginnings of this country. All of this makes us divide ourselves out from the rest of the world and proclaim we are winners of the greatest country sweepstakes.
These concepts come from two early philosophies. One is Calvinism. Calvinist\Puritan theology proclaims that there are those among us whom God has elected from the beginnings of time. How do you tell these elected people? Calvinism says ultimately you cannot tell but indicators might be how well you are doing in this life as far as reputation, wealth, health, and other things. So if you are winning in this life you are surely the chosen. This of course sees its extreme in the health and wealth gospel of many television preachers.
The second philosophy is the free market. The belief that if we leave it to its own devices the economy will rightly choose economic winners and losers. How you say? Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, says this is done by an invisible hand that mysteriously corrects all the various discrepancies of a free market system. It is no accident of faith that Smith’s magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, was written in 1776 the year of our Declaration of Independence. But for our purposes the world of economics is divided between winners and losers and that is ordained almost from God.
Now couple those two philosophies with our culture’s obsession with the sports world which constantly talks about winners and losers and you have a citizenry that sees everything as a competition and every interaction as having winners and losers. After all winning isn’t everything it is the only thing.
But what if there was another way. A way beyond winning. At this point Rush Limbaugh would roll his eyes and say something about the feminization of culture (as if that would be a negative thing). We have all heard or even spoken about the critique making everyone a winner by giving everyone trophies creates a false narrative of how the world really works. But if we could put away for a moment our preconceptions and well developed cultural paradigms maybe beyond winning might make sense.
The first thing that needs to be said is the need to win is an inner compulsion brought on by two spiritual issues on opposite sides of the coin. The first is the need for people to think of you as important or a need to be valued is pictured on one side. If winners are the only ones who are valued or who are important then it can be hard to lose. The unemployed person has lost in the economic competition of life. The non-athlete who competes but does not win is a loser. The person whose life is full of struggle and pain is not chosen by God. A beyond winning attitude would not necessarily look at success but growth, wisdom, and inherent dignity of everyone as more important than who wins and who loses. So as persons who observe from the outside in a beyond winning world we treat everyone as equal in importance and view everyone as worthy of praise even if they do not win. If they compete, if they learn and grow from their experience, and if they maintain their sense of honor and dignity, that is what we are concerned about. As the person we must realize our value is not determined by other people’s opinions or values. If we have right livelihood, if we are true to ourselves we do not need the approval or the designation of winner from others.
The second spiritual issue is an arrogant narcissism. It is the belief for the world to be right I must win or have my way. There are many ways the world can be right without me winning or having my way. The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno in his book The Tragic Sense of Life says, ‘It is such a small thing to be right.’ Maintaining healthy relationships and community is often more important than many of the issues for which we fight. Gandhian philosophy states that not one person holds the complete truth and it is in dialogue with the other that we come to the whole truth or the third way. Arrogant narcissism is usually brought on by feelings we are not valued unless we have our way. If we are ever wrong or admit to a mistake people could not possibly value us. So we fight for our side and our opinion because we are scared and dependent on others approving us. We search inside for validation but it is not there and must be found outside ourselves. Beyond winning asks is this my fight, is this worth fighting for, what is the cost, and do others have points of view with which I can live and not what does it mean if I lose.
There is a way of life beyond always choosing winners and losers, and the haves and have nots. But for that to happen we have to move from our established paradigms and maybe viewing a world beyond winning is the beginning of that world.