Commentary

Winning and losing

Originally Appeared in : 9712-6/8/17

Much focus in American society is given to winning. Elections, championships, competitions of all kinds. When someone wins the lottery, we uniformly celebrate. A win inspires us all to keep trying, against all odds.

 

We want to win wars, arguments, contests, prizes, sales, awards, praise, and respect. When we win, we feel vindicated. We feel affirmed in our abilities. We feel honored. We feel encouraged.

 

Yet deep down, we seem to understand that being driven to win isn’t always healthy. Mature coaches affirm to their teams the importance of trying hard and playing with fairness and good sportsmanship. Parents console their children when they come in second, or third, or don’t even place.

 

Sometimes winning can be less satisfying, something we call a hollow victory, when the victory comes with a price greater than the struggle was worth.

 

The dark side of winning is that it pits us against each other. When we promote a candidate or a team or an argument, we are not always gracious when we win or when we lose. To win can lead to gloating, put downs, rubbing it in. To lose can lead to resentment, backbiting, jealousy.

 

To avoid the pitfalls of winning or losing, we need a different paradigm. Sometimes, especially in business, we refer to a win-win situation. I get what I want; you get what you want; we both win. But those opportunities are rare.

 

From the perspective of a Christian comes a radical paradigm: Winning and losing are turned upside down. The paradox of the Christian life is that losing is winning. Surrender is victory. Sacrifice is reward. Death is life.
Christ said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (6 Matthew: 25)

 

Often, however, it’s hard to recognize the paradox in the life of many Christians. Indeed, for some who claim to follow Christ, prosperity, including financial reward, has become a goal. According to the gospel of prosperity, people are promised financial reward if they are willing to tithe heavily to a televangelist. Vulnerable people who are in dire financial straits may well be convinced that the prosperity gospel is their salvation. Exploitation in this fashion is akin to the moneychangers in the temple whose tables Jesus overturned.

 

Our worth is not linked to our financial contributions, nor to our behavior. God has gifted us all with inherent dignity. And, in the Beatitudes, Jesus promotes the dignity of those who are impoverished in spirit and life.

 

But we too easily lose sight of Jesus’ emphasis on the blessedness of the meek, humble, and poor because we are encouraged to see those who have less as responsible for their plight. Unfortunately, in a society of winners and losers, those who have “won” at life feel disconnected from those who are on the bottom. At best, our disconnection comes from insulation. We are not in touch with the “losers” because we don’t interact with them. They’re segregated from us by neighborhood, socio-economic status, and a lack of resources. They don’t go where we go.

 

In our recent political discourse, some make the case for leaving behind the “losers,” for further alienation, separation, punishment. Some say, “If I’m healthy, why should I worry about the sick man whose health care costs threaten to bankrupt him?” “Why should my taxes go to pay for programs that support people who won’t work?” “Why should I care about imprisoning someone for years because of a drug offense? She should have known better.” “If he gets deported, it’s his fault. He shouldn’t have come here illegally in the first place.”

 

These questions pit us, the winners, against those in society we define as losers. Yet we aren’t willing to examine the circumstances that have pitted us against each other and created a society which stacks the deck against those who are already behind.

 

Those who are winning at life typically see their victory as a result of their own doing. And, these same “winners” are inclined to believe that life’s “losers” are victims of their own choices. In both cases, the focus is on individual merit, not grace.

 

Perhaps that is why Jesus tells the rich young man to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor. Jesus had been touched by the young man’s faith and obedience, but he knew that his wealth prevented him from entering God’s Kingdom, not because God condemns wealth, but because God condemns anything that separates us from our brothers and sisters.

 

As long as we see the world in terms of winners and losers, we will identify our worth with what we have achieved, not who we are. That pride and self-satisfaction will make it hard to enter God’s kingdom where he has prepared a banquet for the poor.

 

Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at 
maryhoodhart@gmail.com.

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