Sunday, June 25, 2006

Winning & Losing

I am back from a long hiatus (vacation in Missouri). Tonight’s journal jar question is “How do you feel about winning? Losing?” Very interesting.

I have kind of weird views about winning, losing, and competition in general. I know I am not a good capitalist when I say that mostly, competition offends my sensibilities---it always has, whether I am a “winner” or a “loser.” So few things in life are truly absolute and fair and lacking subjectivity, I just hate competition. I hate that someone, somewhere has to lose.

I think it’s absolutely necessary in life to compete with yourself—that is, constantly seek improvement, to do better than last time and not rest on your laurels. Life is about growth and progression, so besting yourself is great. It’s just unhealthy to take off your blinders and compare yourself to others.

Rich and I were playing Cranium with my brother and sister-in-law a few months ago and we had a little winning stretch. When we got our third or fourth straight right answer and got close to the finish line, I said, “Aw, dang it!” Willy thought that was weird—“Why are you upset? You’re gonna beat us!” I said, “That’s just it—I don’t want the game to be over and I want the finish to be close and fair!” He and Audrey just laughed at me, but I think that captures my whole philosophy. Winning isn’t my thing—having fun, playing fair, doing my best, and maybe helping somebody else win (somebody who cares about winning) are the things I enjoy.

In a more general, spiritual sense, I believe competition is not good for our souls or our mission in life. In the May 2002 Ensign, Jeffrey R. Holland talked about some lessons we can learn from the story of the Prodigal Son—except he focused a lot on the reaction of the “good brother.” Holland says of the brother’s jealousy and competition with his prodigal brother: “Who is it that whispers so subtly in our ear that a gift given to another somehow diminishes the blessings we have received? Who makes us feel that if God is smiling on another, then He surely must somehow be frowning on us? You and I both know who does this—it is the father of all lies. It is Lucifer, our common enemy, whose cry down through the corridors of time is always and to everyone, ‘Give me thine honor.’”

He continues: “But God does not work this way. The father in this story does not tantalize his children. He does not mercilessly measure them against their neighbors. He doesn’t even compare them with each other. His gestures of compassion toward one do not require a withdrawal or denial of love for the other. He is divinely generous to both of these sons. Toward both of his children he extends charity. I believe God is with us the way my precious wife, Pat, is with my singing. She is a gifted musician, something of a musical genius, but I couldn’t capture a musical note with Velcro. And yet I know she loves me in a very special way when I try to sing. I know that because I can see it in her eyes. They are the eyes of love.

“One observer has written: ‘In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a [divine] love that does not do the same. When I hear someone praised,’ he says, ‘it is hard not to think of myself as less praiseworthy; when I read about the goodness and kindness of other people, it is hard not to wonder whether I myself am as good and kind as they; and when I see trophies, rewards, and prizes being handed out to special people, I cannot avoid asking myself why that didn’t happen to me.’ If left unresisted, we can see how this inclination so embellished by the world will ultimately bring a resentful, demeaning view of God and a terribly destructive view of ourselves. Most ‘thou shalt not’ commandments are meant to keep us from hurting others, but I am convinced the commandment not to covet is meant to keep us from hurting ourselves…. Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other.”

So there you have it. One of the best pearls of wisdom I have ever encountered...I want to cheer on every runner, too.