Woyaya: Winning and Losing

I was out running errands when I first heard the news.  Professional tennis player, Serena Williams had just beat her sister, Venus Williams, in the Australian Grand Slam tournament to become the most winning player since the Grand Slam opened up to professional players in 1968.  A little while later, I listened as Serena accepted the Cup and acknowledge that she would not be in this place of victory except for her sister–the woman she had just defeated.  That sent my mind reeling about how it is that we view winning and losing in our American world.

In any field: sports, the workplace, in neighborhood issues, in church politics, and speaking of politics–especially in politics–we all want to win.  No one wants to lose.

I don’t think I ever paused to notice that there is not a single winner that is capable of rising to a true victory independent of the very one or ones who lost.  Winners NEED those who lose, and not just so that they can point to the losers and feel superior (though, that is certainly how we often behave).  I mean something much more significant when I say that winners NEED losers.

An athlete who wins only does so because of the skills and strength developed in the process of competing with those who lose.  The winner is a winner to the degree that the loser challenged them. We are all aware of winners who took on an ill-prepared opponent who was badly beaten.  The win, in that case, is almost shameful, as if the winner should never have played that opponent.  The real and significant win comes from competing with a most worthy opponent.

And this: a true winner understands just how much she NEEDS her opponent to become that one who wins.  Winners do not arrive at victory on their own.  The ones they defeat have helped them to that place.  Just like the Williams sisters, the “losers” are actually also there and always in the background of the “winner’s” victory. If that’s true, doesn’t that fundamentally reshape how we think about winning and losing?

Winners depend on those they defeat in order to be winners.  Those they defeat play a significant role in helping them develop the skill, the strength, the insight, the wisdom, and the finesse to become as successful as they are.  We live, however, in a culture that pretends that winners take all, and that winners have nothing to do with losers.  Let’s consider some other scenarios.

If men have been the “winners” in the world, have they not done so with the NECESSARY power of women?  If white people have been the “winners” in the world, have they not done so without the strength and insight of people of color?  If Christianity has been the prevailing religion in the world for the last many centuries it has not been so in a world school where other religions were its teachers?  If human beings have dominated the earth and its resources, have we not done so because those resources were there as a limited treasure in the first place?

There really is no such thing as winner-take-all.  I am clear that we still believe that.  It’s a notion that comes out of ancient warring where the winners took land, people as slaves, and treasures for wealth. We have extended that notion to all kinds of competition, falsely. Our newly elected President and his cabinet could take some lessons from the Williams sisters. Every one of his political opponents–whom he defeated–stand around him, metaphorically, spiritually and politically speaking when he acts as the “winner” of the office.  If he does not begin to realize this, the day will come when he will be replaced by another who might learn that lesson.  I hope it is not too late when these lessons come.

We are going.  We want to get there.  We don’t know how, right now, but we hope we will. I’m pretty sure it comes with a new relationship between “winners” and “losers.”  Thank you, Williams sisters.  You clearly understand.

Bob Patrick

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