What Can the Wisdom Traditions Teach Us About Winning and Losing?
If we look at what has become an all too common cultural norm- be it in politics, business or personal life- it seems that winning at all costs has replaced the more humane and wise notion of winning- but doing so following the rules of the game and a moral imperative.
When we look the other way, ignoring fouls and other ethical violations, are we tacitly endorsing these behaviors at best, or enabling at worst, behaviors that are antithetical to our own betterment and survival not just as individuals but as a species? In the wisdom traditions, using traditional martial arts as a proxy, we are trained to strive for personal excellence, and the contest- whether in the ring of competition on in the ring of life- provides a “proving ground” to test ourselves not just versus another player or contestant but against our own best potential.
Here there are 4 levels of winning and losing, not just the binary winning and losing we have become all too familiar with today.
The highest level of achievement is an honorable win. Your win is supported by right conduct and if you know you did not win cleanly you self-report the foul or incident rather than hide it under the rug or play to the chorus of “if it wasn’t seen, or can’t be proved, then it didn’t happen”.
One level down from this is an honorable loss. If you lost but did your best and were beaten fair and square, you honor both your opponent and yourself, and learn from the experience by being a gracious “loser”. Here winning still occurs through character development, investing in loss, and remaining focused on long term growth not just short term outcomes. Honorable losses build resiliency and forge a character of perseverance and grit.
Next comes a dishonorable win and obviously in last place comes the dishonorable loss where in spite of trying every dirty trick in the book you still get your clock cleaned!
Whether it is in Olympic competition against the best in the world, or a personal competition to better oneself, it would be useful to foster a climate/culture that underscores the importance of honor and humility in the “success calculus” or we find the win meaningless, transitory and ultimately not supportive of our individual or collective growth.
This can also play out in our day to day choices; doing the right thing for the right reason, the wrong thing for the right reason, the right thing for the wrong reason and the wrong thing for the wrong reason. I will leave it to you to discern the hierarchy and Faustian bargain this path takes us to when left to its ultimate conclusion.
Alpha Improperly Considered:
Much is made of Alpha animals – particularly humans- dominating their tribe and being willing to prevail over all contenders both inside and out.
Not as much is understood or appreciated about Alpha leaders, even in primates, modeling empathy and seeing their primary role as caring for and supporting their group not just terrorizing their peers and den members.
A real Alpha leader has the capacity to win at all costs but subordinates themselves.
I have heard altruism defined as “self-handicapping” for the greater good…
What kind of leader do you want to model, follow or create?
Let’s start now!
Enjoy Leonard Cohen’s Anthem:
Thanks to the honorable, the purposeful and the soulful!
Please pay it forward…
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‘Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything) That’s how the light gets in”—Leonard Cohen