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
Yep, “C” used to mean “average – what the average student does/performs” “C” is “good”, B = better, A=-best (and not everyone has the ability or is willing to put forth the effort to attain “A”)
Then some worried students would be their feelings hurt, get discouraged – so now everyone gets the trophy. Smart kids soon realize “why work harder if we all get the same; and poor students think exactly the same ides. We end up with Lose-lose all the way around. Effort and hard work become ridiculed and “stupid”
Seems to work better when starting at a long age, kids learn if you work hard, there’s joy in accomplishing as well as you get more praise/stuff. Kids need to learn to fail and pick themselves up and work harder – and accomplish a goal through struggling. Learn to be gracious in winning as well as losing. And recognize the reality that while not everyone will be a winner at every thing, each has some area that they can excel in. Pride in what you can do well – not envy others’ skills.
All of this building of a person’s self image is difficult if parent aren’t attentive/onboard – and realistic. We need to build emotionally strong children who find pride through effort – no matter the task.
People do have choices. I love the Gandhi quote and yours “If I let someone stomp through my brain with muddy thoughts, that’s on me.”
Solid post – and a good one
Thanks for taking time to write. Your essay here just bookended my post. Thanks for sharing and taking time! You nail every post on your site!
Appreciate your kind words. Blogging creates such interesting communities, doesn’t it?
That is such a cool response! And I last attended class more than 2 years ago!
The focus on “winning” or “losing” in our societies is often the reflection of unhealthy attitudes to what life is about. A’s in school are great, as long as they are felt to reflect having reached a personal goal, and not in terms of comparison to others. Churchill, like many “great” men, was not a particularly “nice” person, though his wit could be delighfully tongue-in-cheek: the excerpt you have here is definitely a nasty low 🙁 Good post to reflect on, as not defining themselves by the opinion of others is a lifetime struggle for many people.
Yes, incredible wit. Churchill did leave us with many ringing quotes. He was a human being, great and flawed.
There’s no summing up Sir Winston, for certain. Nor Gandhi, who had his own set of lamentable traits. It’s enough for me to say that I am thankful that they lived.
You are absolutely right. Well said!
Excelling is good (though not everything in the world… we can excel in love for example and change the world in small, quiet ways). But what we think of in outstanding ability to surpass others, brings about innovation and excellence. The trophy for participation, no more valedictorians, no red marks on the paper, mainstreaming even the least capable, focus on unearned self esteem etc. is nothing but a tumble to mediocrity in my opinion. Not everybody can be a leader in wartime, a neurosurgeon, a Heisman trophy winner. But we shouldn’t do anything to thwart the efforts of those who can be…. treating everybody as equal in ability, equal in effort is a disincentive to some.
Mediocrity concerns me, though I like for everyone to have a shot. Thanks for your comments!
Brilliant! Awesome!! Thank you my Storyteller. Made my weekend.
Thanks, Dr. M! How goes your law +med life across the pond? Miss you!
All well Storyteller. Keep up the beautiful writing. Please!
Hey Dr. M: Just posted something to give you Brits a laugh.
Excellent. Thank you Storyteller. Will enjoy reading when I get home.
Such an important question – what is success? Different things to different people. Great blog. Loved it.
Thanks so much for reading this essay. I just hopped over to your site. Nice to connect!
well said – totally love your personalization of Ghandi’s quote 🙂
Thanks for reading!