Who is the winner? The official winner of the American presidential election of 2020 has not yet been declared. The results are being contested, and a deeply divided American society still has to wait it out until all the votes have been re-counted and certified, and the winner is officially announced.
All of this has prompted me to ponder the notion of winning, and how winning – and especially winning at all cost – has become ingrained into our psyche, our education and our society. Somehow, winning, whatever it takes, has become the ultimate goal. A quote by football coach Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”, has almost become a refrain in the minds of millions of people around the world. Although this may be applicable to sport, it can be dangerous to apply it unfiltered to life in general. Research shows that, if children are taught that winning is everything, they will tend to disobey the rules, to show no respect for their opponents, and to bully and cheat their way to the top. The business person for whom winning is the only thing soon loses his or her moral compass and becomes prepared to sell their soul to seal the deal and build their empire.
This is not to discourage competition or to suggest that losing may be the better option. Far from it. It is about raising our awareness on how we compete, and what we think we need to do to be a winner. In the Western world, getting ahead most often implies having to be in a state of contention and competition. You must defeat, even destroy, the other person to get what you want before he or she does.
However, there is another way. It is one that Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, calls “the virtue of non-competition”. He suggests that we should rather view our opponents as part of ourselves, and therefore as a crucial part of the dance of life. Rather than being angry towards them or seeing them as hateful, we can try to see them as helping us to achieve mastery and excellence. Their involvement can elevate us to the status of a winner. We want them to play at the best level they are capable since that will up our game. What is the use of having an opponent if they deliberately underperform so that we can win? We want our opponents to perform at their best and to show us what they can do. But we so easily become confused. Our opponents are not our enemies; they are a benchmark of our progress. How we react and respond to our opponents is indicative of our own level of maturity. The wise will employ the powers of others to become better at their own game. This is how we can help each other to evolve and grow. Why would we want to destroy them, ridicule them, belittle them, or harm them? As Lao-Tzu advised:
A good soldier is not violent.
A good fighter is not angry.
Good winners do not contend.
Good employers serve their workers.
The best leader follows the will of the people.
All of them embody the virtue of non-competition
This is called the virtue of non-contending.
This is called employing the powers of others.
This since ancient times has been known
As the ultimate unity with heaven.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 68, translation by Wayne Dyer)
And the winner is … wisdom.
“Winning a game is good, but winning a game together with winning your rival’s heart too is brilliant and this is a real winning!”