Saturday, October 22, 2011

Win or Lose?

Charles Schultz’s “Snoopy” character observed, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, as long as you win!" This month's tally of winners and losers will add up to more of one than the other in both the World Series and the political scene. Winners make headlines and begin that uphill climb to deliver their best. What about the losers? What happens to them and to their supporters?

A look at some psychology behind winners and losers reveals the anguish of "Second Place." Close doesn't count, in the eyes of many, who brush aside a lifetime of striving and discipline to idolize the winner. An Olympic athlete, for instance, can come within a hair of taking the gold, stand before the world to receive a medal of another color...and think, "I'm a loser. If only I'd breathed better or turned slightly to the right instead of the left."

There's the classic case of Abel Kiviat who ran away from the field in the 1,500 meter track event at the 1912 Olympics when a British rival pulled ahead in a thrill finish to win by one-tenth of a second. Seven decades later, Kiviat told the Los Angeles Times that even at age 91, "I wake up sometimes and say, "What
the heck happened to me?" It's like a nightmare."

And THAT was before agents, multimillion-dollar broadcast contracts, bonuses and Dream Teams. How do we promote the privilege and thrill of just being able to enter the race, when confronted with that old shoe slogan, "YOU DON'T WIN SILVER, YOU LOSE GOLD!" Or the billboard ad that screams, "CONTEMPT IS A HUNDREDTH OF A SECOND."

No wonder the U.S. team in Atlanta set the Olympic record for the largest psyc squad to sanitize stained egos. The experts LABEL putting yourself down as A LOSER, unless you're absolutely at the very top. It's called "counterfactual thinking." And it's not confined to one area or one age group. How did you feel when your mom looked at the B on your report card and wondered why not an A? Buzz Aldrin, second man to walk on the moon, suffered crippling depression back on earth. You're as qualified as the next guy to get the promotion at the office. How does it feel when you're in the last 3 to be considered and don't get it? You score well on the ACT, your academic standing is excellent, your extracurricular involvement outstanding. You even get the letter from the university of your choice, stating you are a "strong contender." But you don't get in...along with thousands of others who applied. Are you a winner or a loser?

"To the victor go the spoils." Or should that read, "The victor will be spoiled and the loser will be soiled." Psychological evaluations conclude it's actually easier to lose by a lot than by a little. Even the bronze medalists, for example, get on with their lives better than those with the silver. Their reactions are healthier. They seem to retain the thrill of just being part of the event.

I’ll be cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, checking the stats, saying “Oh rats!” now and then, predicting and rerunning plays…but always in awe of the discipline each member of the team displays, from the stadium keepers to the managers to the players. They’re all winners, when you come right down to it, even tho just a few will take home the prize.

What do we do when we're the "also-rans?" How do we handle the loss or victory of "our" candidate or “our” team? Do we live the poignant motto, "Humble in victory...Gracious in defeat."

C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters talks about disappointment. The Senior devil, Screwtape, to junior devil Wormwood: "Whatever men expect, they soon come to think they have a right to; in the sense of disappointment this can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury."

What about us? Can we view what we risk, discipline ourselves for and strive toward as part of a "holy experiment," used to serve the Living God with our time, talent and treasure? With that attitude, we can't lose. So work, campaign and pray hard at what you do. It's not time wasted. Christians serve a greater purpose. It's a higher calling than individual "wins and losses." It's ALL going somewhere, cumulatively, as God promises in His Word. We offer who we are, what we have, with the Psalmist, "My times are in Thy hands." Win or lose, they’re times He’ll use.

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