Did the people that raised you teach you to be empathetic toward winners or toward losers? Because that one simple shift in focus will have a great deal to do with where you life goes, what challenges you encounter, and what changes you’ll have to make to realize your truest and best self.
When people “parent” they think of the stuff they do consciously, like when they tell you to respect others or carry your own weight or whatever their advice is. But advice is advice and leadership is always by example, so what you say isn’t as important as what you do. So a major bit of parenting is how people react to winning and losing. Not in the obvious playing a game sense, but in the much more subtle but much more important life perspective sense.
When I was a kid and I was watching hockey with my Dad and our team won in the playoffs and ousted another team, my father would always notice the losing players and he would acknowledge that both teams worked very hard but only one can win. Super subtly he instilled in me that it was the hard work that had the value, and he also taught me that for their to be winners there had to be losers and he implied that they too deserved my awareness and respect. It was important that I understood that they are needed and required by anyone to experience winning.
I know other kids who were taught that losers are losers and that’s because winners are better. To them winning isn’t a temporary state created by an event, it’s what they are. They weren’t fortunate in terms of equipment, time, training or luck, they thought they were just plain better humans. My Dad expected me to do my best. That meant that I had to invest everything I had available, but if that wasn’t enough he never lead me to feel I had anything to be ashamed of. But if you had a parent where losers are losers, then winning and losing aren’t experiences your can grow from either way, they are either celebrations or suffering.
Even if you worked hard and earned every penny you’ve made, if you’ve done that in the modern world then you’re still standing on the backs of a lot of skeletons. Every industry, business, scientific theory, societal system was all built on someone losing. Seatbelts come from accidents, food safety comes from disease, medical breakthroughs are responses to deaths. Even your phone was derived through trial and error.
“Losing” is an integral part of any person or society moving forward. It should not be seen as a failure, but merely a result. There have been a ridiculous amount of super talented people in every field of endeavour who never got to the top of the top. So there are no real winners and losers. There is only character–the effort–or a lack of it. Taking pleasure from other people’s losses is to misunderstand our intricate relationships with others.
Egos see this as us and them, I and they, subject and judgment. The real you sees the world much more completely, and like a musician who creates great songs by finding music and not seeking money, other great performances in life from acting to parenting are all achieved by people who focused on themselves and their abilities in action and not on the comparative differences between us and others.
Sure, use a field of play to determine a winner and loser in what James Carse calls a “finite game,” but the infinite game requires you to maintain a non-judgmental connection to another person, and to do that you need to be able to appreciate both their joys and their pains. Only when we experience the unity of non-judgmental connection do we bridge the gaps between ourselves and our happiness in life.
Ask yourself what you learned growing up, empathy or ego? And spend some time meditating. Ask yourself how your lessons about winning and losing have impacted your life and the lives of those closest to you. A greater awareness of the health of your motivations can allow you to make sharper decisions about where you will find the rewards in life you’re looking for.
Surrender your judgmental hierarchies. These differences only exist in thought. Seek what unifies you with others and your life will improve. Because even if you do make it to the very top, in real terms that just means you’re all alone and you have farther to fall.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.