Sometimes ego gets in the way. Recent messaging in society stresses “winning.” Sure, it’s great to succeed—the creation of a smart business, a top mark in a class, a promotion, a smashing product launch. . . .
However, when the world starkly divide “winners” and “losers” with derision for the latter, we all miss out.
Yet we also live in a culture in which children on some teams receive a trophies for participating—whether they racked up 0 points or numerous scores. “Everyone is a winner.” So what of healthy competition?
By happenstance last week, I met a seasoned English professor who confirmed that many students expect A’s, dismiss B’s as second-rate, and view C’s as tantamount to failure. I taught my last class five years ago. Not much has changed.
Back in the day, most professors clearly stated that an A represented superior work—a mark of maturity, original thinking, and creativity expressed in superior style with flawless grammar, punctuation, spelling, and mechanics. And they noted, “By the end of the semester, only two or three students will earn an A.” I learned that a B indicated solid work (exceeded expectations) and that a C signified the fulfillment of basic requirements.
To return to the word “winning.” What constitutes a “winning” evaluation? Every person or discipline sets particular standards.
Does decent comportment, equitable treatment of others, trust, the willingness to listen, the desire to lend a helping hand, the avoidance of gossip, or the choice to observe rather than judge enter into evaluations? Does character count? Or is it a matter of listing a string of accomplishments and checking off goals in square boxes along with choice statements about self-improvement. All depends on the evaluation/evaluator.
Evaluations can be helpful just as derision can damage.
In terms of the latter, Mahatma Gandhi comes to mind: “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
When younger, I took a fancy to a blunt quotation by Jean Paul Sartre: “L’enfer, c’est les autres.” In other words, “hell is other people,” which I will qualify by adding “sometimes.”
Ego can burden the soul. It is a living hell to build a self-view based on the opinions of others. We always have the choice to grasp the present, face an internal mirror, and seek truth as best we can. That does not necessarily make anyone a saint, a winner, or a loser. It simply peels away to the heart of the matter, the core of one’s humanity.
If I let someone stomp through my brain with muddy thoughts, that’s on me.
When Gandhi met the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, and the royal family in his customary dress in 1931, Winston Churchill’s comment did not mark his finest hour:
“It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor.”
Gandhi wove the cotton for his clothing and handmade his leather sandals. Churchill’s celebrated Peal & Co. crested slippers did not tiptoe through his mind: “Why should I feel ashamed? The king had enough on for both of us!”*
Footnote: For a glimpse of Churchill’s favored footwear, breeze through “The Winston Churchill Style Guide: Cuban Cigars, Cars, and Bow Ties.”
*Quotation cited in “Clothing Choices in Gandhi’s Nonverbal Communication” by Peter Consalves