- “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing” – UCLA Bruins Football Coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders (not Vince Lombardi who did use this).
- “It’s not that you won or lost, but how you played the game” – Grandland Rice.
- “The most important thing . . . is not winning but taking part” –Pierre de Cubetin, Modern Olympic Creed.
Somewhere in the evolution of humans the concept of winning and losing – of being a winner or a loser – came into play. Think of the consequences of that concept: wars; slavery; sexism; discrimination of all kinds; the great disparity in income and assets; power being lodged in the hands of a few; ageism, and on and on.
There have been societies where the concept of equality reigns. There are societies where humans regard themselves as just being a part of the overall ecosystem with all living things support each other. The societies in today’s world have been largely minimized by “progress” and the taming and exploitation of the environment for those at the top of the food chain – we the modern day humans.
The underpinnings of religion aren’t involved with winners and losers: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Don’t beat them into the ground and exploit them for your own benefit. The examples set by those who have been the founders and acknowledged leaders of religions and spiritual movements – the way they lived their lives – demonstrated that they honored and helped all peoples, not singling out winners and losers. The sermons delivered weekly to congregations by their religious leaders ring high and mighty about being kind, generous, live simply– and how to live our lives according to these words is too often left in the sanctuary as the congregants file out.
Powell Davis, a prolific author of theological books and sermon collections, who came to national prominence in the U.S. through his liberal activism advocating civil rights for African-Americans and women and ethical stands against post-war nuclear proliferation and the methods employed by the American government during the era of McCarthyism, noted in this vein: “So far as I can see, all the great leaders—and the great exemplars of religion—possessed faith in life’s essence, in its hidden meaning, in its moral claim, and in the rightness of its inner spiritual guidance. And by this the great ones lived their lives. So must we. There are no problems greater than our power to solve them. There are no burdens greater than our strength. We shape—by every moment of our lives—the great decisions. Then let us venture still!”
Our society is replete today with a focus on winning. Rather than focusing on informing the public about positions, possibilities and programs, the candidates for public office (and the office holders once elected or appointed) seek attention and headlines by playing the game of personal invective and catering to their ‘fans.’ They make promises to attract contributions and votes, promises that they hope will get them to the “winner’s circle.” The media and the ‘reporters’ and pundits are obsessed with looking to see who “won” a debate, or who is winning their election ‘game’ as is predicted by the daily polls that get changed more often than the diaper of a six month old. We get a break-down of the supporters for the players in such games – which ends up creating substantial animosity between the groups.
And, isn’t all of this mostly a narcissistic ploy with one object – to be a winner, and leave all the others behind! So, look in the mirror, look to your left and your right, look around at all those who people your life, understand who is supporting the standard raised that our goal in life, our goal from the time we are old enough to go out and kick a ball, is to be a winner. That part of us – our ego – whose prime purpose is to provide protection so we don’t step off the curb and get hit by a bus wants to ‘win’ the game of who is in control of ‘us.’ It thrives and grows with all the accouterments of being a winner and does its best to take over to drive toward that goal and result.
Substantial awards – monetary for those who are “professionals” – are awarded to winners. Those players who are playing the infinite game, who complement their opponents, who are courteous and caring, who are observed doing the best that they can do in their current human condition, fall mostly in the category of “losers.”
What would happen if games were played in the context that they are all – in the end – part of the “Game of Life.” We are in it to play, to perpetuate the game, to do the best we can at the level of being part of the “ONE” of all life?
We are told that those who kill more of their enemies than the other side become ‘winners.’ This last century, there were well over 100 wars and many more than that number of conflicts that involved loss of life let alone damage to property and the environment. That then results in lots of “losers” – particularly in contests where there are one or several winners and many more non-winners or losers. Our views and rhetoric in politics, in sports, in relationships – in pretty much everything we ‘do’ are structured (too often) by this concept of winners and losers.
I would like to lift up the concepts advanced by James P. Carse, in a little book published in 1986 entitled: Finite and Infinite Games. His Chapter 1: “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the game. Carse, who was a Professor of Religion at New York University and winner of the University’s Great Teacher Award, concludes the book in Chapter 100: “Infinite players are not serious actors in any story, but the joyful poets of a story that continues to originate what they cannot finish.” Then there is Chapter 101: “THERE IS BUT ONE INFINITE GAME.”
If, indeed, “We the People” are interconnected and understand that we are all part of the same gift of life and all are here to share and preserve the gifts we have been given and that one of our obligations and/or opportunities is to help advance the quality of life – life for all, – then it would seem that playing each and all games as if each and all were in and playing the Game of Life, with the understanding that the ‘bottom line’ of the game – whatever it may be – is to play and do the best you can do at that time and at that place.
If, because of our history, our education,
If, because of our DNA and evolutionary impulse,
If, because it does feel good to be declared special,
If, because to be heard and have our ideas for the greater good advanced,
If, because it is valuable to have our egos satisfied,
If we are willing to sacrifice much of what exists on this planet and perhaps elsewhere –
Then keep playing the finite game.
But how about taking a step back, opening your mind, heart and soul . . . and reprogramming to play the infinite game? Go on, it really is fun.