The Cost of Winning

Posted: September 16, 2009 in life, perspective, speech acts, unity

I love winning. I grew up in Mississippi loving to play both soccer and baseball, but mostly loving to win when I played soccer and baseball. From an early age, the question, “Did you have fun?” never mattered. I wanted to win! And couldn’t understand those kids on my teams that were there to “have fun.”

It was fun to win; it was not fun to lose.

At the same time I was winning and losing, my family and my coaches – which were often the same people – taught me that good sportsmanship was part and parcel of playing sports well. Even when I lost, or while the game was hanging in the balance, I understood that my opponent wasn’t my enemy. At the end of games both teams would shake hands and leave our striving against one another on the field. My father taught me that winning was a good thing, but it wasn’t everything. But sadly, in our world more and more of us are finding winning to be the only thing. If you haven’t noticed, American culture, perhaps more than anything else now, is about winning.

This summer as opposition arose the President Obama’s healthcare goals, undecided on the subject myself, I asked my friend, Kraig, a series of questions about the uproar and the anger (town-halls, birthers, etc…). Kraig and I e-mailed back and forth our thoughts on the subject. Kraig articulated hosts of reasons why some people were so angry. A staunch conservative, Kraig has issues with “Obamacare,” as do many people I know, trust and love. Yet in our exchange, he said, “Some of these people have come to see politics as a kind of sport, and it’s not necessarily about the issues so much as it’s about winning.” That was a new take on politics to me – as naïve as that sounds. For some, there is an opposition and when there is an opposition, the most fundamental thing that can be done is defeat them. In fact, if you’re able to convince yourself that the opposition is inherently evil then you must defeat them – even if that means degrading one’s own self to do so. Don’t mistake me, though naïve, I know there are people of all political persuasions, left and right, who see their primary political motivator not as advocacy of a position, bi-partisanship, or statesmanship, but the elimination of the opponent.

Our political blood-lust for winning bubbled up and spilled over into the President’s address to the nation last week as we saw Joe Wilson embarrass all of us with his ill-advised shout at the President. Shouting in Congress does not produce a useful bill, it’s done in order to hurt the President’s cause. In turn those opposed to Wilson have and are calling for endless apologies, not because the apology will do anything besides weaken Wilson and his chances for reelection. The issue is long past and never really mattered much anyway, now it’s about winning.

Obviously, this kind of behavior isn’t limited to politics. As we’ve seen through Serena Williams’ U.S. Open profanity laced tirade, the winning edge within sports itself can be taken too far. Here a talented athlete, frustrated by the prospect of losing, demeaned herself, her opponent and a lineswoman in view of millions – some of kids. Why? Because winning was the most important thing. Worse than that, even, has been the treatment of South African runner, Caster Semanya. This poor woman has been made to undergo a public testing of her gender. There is very little else that strikes so closely to who we are than our gender. And why has she faced this wholly embarrassing testing? She was winning and other runners weren’t. As a father of two daughters, I can’t imagine the pain, hurt, discomfort and mortification Caster’s family must feel.

I have to ask: How much are we willing to lose for the sake of winning?

Too many of us have forgotten that Jesus calls not for the defeat of our enemies but for us to love them. And Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that love for our enemies entails, “refusing to defeat them.” Of course, on the ball field, someone has to win or lose, but there is a way, both on and off the field of play to treat others in ways where everyone wins, or at least is not about defeating. In the end, Christ followers believe that love wins, and because it does all words and actions should be done in love.

What would our world look like if all of us held deeply to the truth that loving our enemies, rather than defeating them, was the ONLY way to win? Hopefully the millions of us who darken the doors of churches every Sunday would be the last people to shout out in anger, regardless of the venue, and the first to know why and how to speak out about the heinous behavior that places winning above all else in sports, politics and the workplace.

At root, we should live as though the most significant victory in the world has already been won, and indeed, with Christ’s salvific act on the cross, it has.

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