Win, Lose or Draw

by Peter Block on June 24, 2010

Tagged as: Hospitality / Cooperation / Local Economy

The path to a life of satisfaction starts when we begin to see clearly the roots of our dissatisfaction. One root is our belief in competition. Satisfaction begins when we begin to understand that “up or out,” “grow or die,” “winner take all” are slogans, propaganda, public relations and sales pitches. The narcotics of a dissatisfying culture.

It makes you wonder about the people who say that winning is everything and how important it is in sport and life. It does not serve you well. You are not going to win all the time. Those we call tough competitors are not very good role models, they are rather un-grounded people. They have paid a price: the loss of their humanity. The strongest ones walk away early, even from winning. For the last few years, Lorena Ochoa has been the best woman golfer in the world. This year she retired at age 29. Said golf was a distraction from what mattered to her. Family and country. That is a role model.  

Using sport as a metaphor is part of the course of colonization. Makes everyone a loser, since at some point we will all pass our prime. Become a has-been. In most sports the average professional career of an athlete is four years. You are choosing four years of victory for another sixty years of has-been.

In the world of systems and institutions you hear that winning is not everything, it is the only thing. This is the real meaning of being a “bottom line” kind of person. To live under this context is to live a thin life. It only creates space for a world of clear and defined outcomes. This is why system life loves predictability. It wants to bet on a sure thing. To live in a world with enough certainty that a winner can be declared.

Aside from the obvious problem of creating a lot of losers and a world of false certainty, the fallacy of competition is that winning is an enduring condition. But think: When you win, how long do you feel good? The feeling is measured in minutes, yet in a colonized society, winning is romanticized to be a durable and sustaining solution. The reality is that it is never enough. Competition rationalizes our dissatisfaction. It keeps us wanting more. What better way to fuel the consumer economy? 

Cooperation is not a denial of the toughness of the real world, it just reframes our effort. Author and “Inner Game” founder Tim Gallwey says that the real purpose of games is to use the opponent to discover your own possibility. It is not to win. If winning were everything, then we would only play people who do not know how to play the game. “Do you play tennis?”  “No.” “Good, let’s play.” That is not what we do, unless winning is everything.

Our belief in competition is so deep that that even war becomes attractive. We think peace is only a temporary and less satisfying reality. It is the absence of war. It is not surprising that we celebrate peace only by celebrating the deaths that theoretically protected it. We think of peace only in the context of war.

The cooperative dimension of community has the potential to be an expression of the existence of peace as something more than the absence of war. All we need to do is declare that cooperation is the natural state. Lose interest in competition. We might document the existence of local cooperation. Call it news and report it. Report on a sporting event by naming high performance on both sides. The storyline might read: A soccer match was played on Wednesday between Clark and Withrow High Schools. Everyone involved had a very good time. Evan Johnson and Jose Zamora from Clark and Orrin Otumbe and Ethan Allan from Withrow all played outstanding games.

What’s your storyline? Let us know.

~ Peter ~