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Addictions are the hot topic lately, what with famous figures populating rehab facilities like some of us take vacations, the psychological community debating what is and what is not an addiction, and the question of whether behavior is by choice or by nature. I would like to add a category that in my opinion is the most problematic of all — the American addiction to win.
Whereas it was once a part of our culture to say, even if not to always follow, the adage “It isn’t about winning, it’s how you play that counts”, but today that perspective is seen as the wail of a loser. Not only have sports at all levels become infested with an addiction to winning, but nearly every aspect of our culture has been overtaken by it. Sometimes it hides as the claim in business that “it’s all about the bottom line” or in politics by the tactics we see on the part of both parties and within parties to win votes no matter the cost.
In sports, we see parents shout at referees, boo opposing children’s teammates and harshly criticize their own child for any failure or “slacking off.” Colleges which once emphasized the benefits of teamwork and character building in the sports programs are now adjuncts to their professional brethren and rely upon winning for the big bucks and prestige it brings.
Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong in a commitment to win. Winning is fun, it feels good and produces admirable results. But when the need to win supersedes all other values and goals, it is, like any other addiction, harmful and difficult to manage. Winning is for many the only worthy goal. One must win in relationships, in arguments, in sports, in business, in how many Facebook friends one has, in short, one must be at the top of every heap and “take no prisoners.”
In my opinion, this overwhelming need to dominate, to be number one, to excel has a tremendous cost to our culture. It replaces civility, sportsmanship and the common good far too often. In business it leads to excesses such as that seen in our current financial markets. Businesses are not allowed to look at the impact of their actions on the public except to the extent it produces the highest return for investors and management. In sports it ruins lives and even causes death because one must not look like a “wimp”. In politics it means compromise is a weakness and for politicians only winning elections matters.
From a larger perspective, the addiction to win has led to the veneration of image over substance, to form over function and to what one “can get away with” over telling the truth. The addiction to win is ruining our country, our culture and distorting our children’s lives. It is molding them to be slaves to marketing and fashion. This is an issue that will not be solved by some mass movement, right or left. It is an issue for each of us and our families and friends to address with humility, honesty and persistence.
Really, winning is not everything.