Local Commentary

Editorial: The Win-Lose Obsession

“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” — President John F. Kennedy

We live in a society that is absurdly obsessed with winning and losing. Everything is measured in such terms, reducing virtually every component of our lives to metaphors for sports competitions. Now there are so-called “reality” shows of all kinds that have winning as their objective. Not just jungle games, but singing, dancing, cooking, designing, spelling … everything is defined by victory or defeat.

“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” — President John F. Kennedy

We live in a society that is absurdly obsessed with winning and losing. Everything is measured in such terms, reducing virtually every component of our lives to metaphors for sports competitions. Now there are so-called “reality” shows of all kinds that have winning as their objective. Not just jungle games, but singing, dancing, cooking, designing, spelling … everything is defined by victory or defeat.

One great irony of this obsession is the fact that there is always only one winner at anything. For example, in a statewide, post-season competition for a state championship, every single team winds up ending its season with a loss, except for one. Insofar as emotional highs and lows are associated with the win-lose obsession, it is a bit odd that society imposes a season-ending downer on every competitor but the one team which prevails through to win the championship. There is almost a taste of sadism that this process imposes on its participants.

Of course, the answer from the coaches and pep-talkers is that losing builds character, even as winning is the single-minded goal that keeps everyone going through a season. But even second-place finishers among hundreds of teams entering a playoff, for example, walk away slump-shouldered, many secretly harboring doubts about being losers.

It’s one thing, perhaps, to pay professional athletes to subject themselves to the win-lose syndrome. For youngsters, team play can teach cooperation and responsibility for others. Camaraderie, fun and exercise are pluses, too, for everyone. So are fitness, coordination, physical grace and perseverance. But it’s simply not all about winning.

The refreshing thing about the arts is that they are relatively free of the win-lose obsession. At least they are supposed to be, though things like the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys and Cappies, and so forth, tend to taint them with similar competitive trappings. Still, for society as a whole, there is a lot more to say for the human benefits of beautiful and poignant art, in all its forms, than for winning, or losing, football teams.

The human spirit is not truly inspired by the process of vanquishing foes. It is, however, by the uplifting of everyone’s sense of living, loving, inspiring, fulfilling creative potentials and so forth, especially including those who might, in other ways, be on some “other team.”

As we continue to encourage and advise our community’s advancement toward the future, it is with a mind to building those enduring institutions for the arts, fresh new arts spaces, fledgling opportunities for young people to explore their own artistic bents so that these, and not just sports, carry their lives into their adulthoods.

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