JONATHAN CARROLL | OPINION COLUMNIST
You’ve practiced for weeks, endured long nights and busy weekends; you’ve put everything you had into this; and you still lost. You’re frustrated, and understandably so. Thankfully, though, someone who came to watch pulls you aside for a moment and reminds you that, “It’s just a game. It’s no big deal. Don’t sweat it so much!” Of course, the concerned citizen’s advice doesn’t do you much good—you came to win, and you didn’t. And now you’re upset.
Either as a country or just an age-based demographic, we’re obsessed with winning. We determine so much on the basis of competition, and for every competition there is a winner and there is a loser. For some of these competitions, the winner is determined by voting on a presentation, be it oral, visual, gustatory, auditory or any combination of the same. However, many of the competitions which we both observe and engage in on a daily basis are based on games. So why are we playing to win and not just having fun?
The first thought that comes to mind is a sense of accomplishment. If we don’t win, then it’s hard to see how we accomplished anything, and that desire to accomplish something pervades our competitive tendencies to push us to want nothing less than victory. But really, if we’re putting in our best, we’re still accomplishing what we can even if it doesn’t come out on top. Thus, although we may not be able to accomplish victory in some regard, with each and every instance we can accomplish what we are able to by putting in our best.
Accordingly, we begin to think of alternatives, and even if we can accomplish, we may think that our skills are worth less than our competitors’ if we do not win. And if our skills are indeed worth less, then we might even go so far as to say that they are worthless since we cannot accomplish as much in the field as someone else could, and thus the victor’s achievements would perpetually overshadow our own. It is along this line of thinking, though, that we must consider why we would compete in the first place. To the person who dances: he likely did not first pick up dancing to try to make a career out of it, but because he enjoyed the look of the leaps and pirouettes which he can engage in while dancing. To the person who plays basketball: she likely did not first pickup basketball to go into the W NBA, but rather because she liked the feeling of dribbling down the court and leaping for the basket. To the person who writes: he likely did not first pick up the pen because he wanted a Pulitzer, but because something about crafting words piqued his interest and delight. So we look at the reasons why we compete in the first place, and we find that they have nothing to do with winning but merely with participating. All the same, then, should we reevaluate how we play the games we do.
We play to participate that we may have fun in doing so, not to win. Just so, participation trophies are a bane to our enjoyment of the game. This is not because they foster some sort of “culture of sensitivity” where no one can be a loser because otherwise feelings will be hurt, but because they foster a culture of winning where no one can be a loser because people must want to play to win. If we allow this latter culture to thrive, then we ourselves will become very easily convinced of its reality, such that merely playing is not enough: we will only be satisfied if we win, and yet that’s not actually why we do the things we do in the first place. Thus, in a culture that tries to make winning the paramount goal, we need to remember why it was that we first picked our passions and keep those in mind so as not to succumb to a culture of winning. And maybe we’ll find that we’re not pursuing all of our passions for the right reasons. If such is the case, then we may go ahead and give those up; we needn’t bore ourselves with the simple drama of winning. In this way, win or lose, we can yet enjoy how we do what we do because, beyond all of the constant competitions which we must engage in, we just want to have fun.