A good friend of mine and I play golf most every weekday during the summer. We're friendly, cordial and supportive and neither one of us would ever think about cheating. We compliment each other on good shots and we never argue about a rule because we both know the rules. This may sound like your typical weekday getaway between friends where you have an adult beverage or two, do a lot of laughing and talking and maybe not even keep score. A lot of people compete that way but I never have and my friend hasn't either. We're incredibly competitive because we both have a burning desire to win. We may be complimentary in the things we say to one another but on the inside we're burning if we're losing because we can't stand that feeling. It's not quite as bad if we played well and the other person simply played better but if we lost because we dropped shots we shouldn't have, we recount those shots over and over and pledge to not make those mistakes again, even though we often do.
That's the way I was raised and it has been an integral part of my make-up ever since. I've never competed when I didn't try my best to win; when I didn't WANT to win. Whether it's girls, sports, awards, politics, popularity or anything else of a competitive nature, my objective is to win because I hate to lose.
But today, we're going through a period of time I hope doesn't last very long. I call it the participation stage. We give medals and ribbons to people today just for playing the game, regardless of how they do. The last place finisher in a race gets a participation ribbon. The worst athlete on the field gets a certificate for simply competing and so does the worst debater. We do this because we don't want anyone's feelings to be hurt; we don't want people to feel alienated or isolated or left out so we include them into the world of winners by recognizing their performance, as shoddy and lackluster as it was, with something they can take home and put on the wall or in a scrapbook to remind them it was a positive thing for them to have stepped into the arena, regardless of how they performed.
I've been a college professor for 30 years and a big part of my job is getting young people ready to compete in the real world and I know the real world only likes winners. When companies or organizations are hiring, they never hire the least qualified person. They don't dig down to the bottom of the resumes and say let's give this person a chance. They're going to invest a lot of time and money in turning a raw recruit into a productive employee and they're sure not going to risk that investment by hiring from the bottom of the pile instead of the top.
We see the same thing happen when major league sports draft players to play for them. The National Football League or Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association only draft the cream of the crop, the best possible players they can sign and the rest go begging or seek another line of work.
Even in romantic relationships, when a lot more depends on how the other person feels about you than what you do, you still feel a need to win and so you do and say the things that you think will attract the other person and if that requires you to sometimes put down other suitors in the process, you'll do that too because you want to get the girl. In fact, a recent issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior had a British study showing that at the peak of their fertility cycle, women like men who are more stereotypically masculine.
Teen-age boys have known that forever.
I play in several fantasy athletic competitions and the only objective in doing that is to win. To thump your chest and hold your head high when you win a weekly competition or even better, winning the entire season which gives you the prestige of wearing the crown for the whole year until it's time to go back and try it again. There's not many things that feel better than taking on all challengers and coming out on top.
There is a purpose in losing too. It's supposed to make you hungrier than you were. It's designed to make you work harder and longer and more intensely than you have been working because losing leaves such a bad taste in your mouth you don't want to experience it again. And so you do those things that are required and you DO get better. You took losing head on as a challenge and you conquered it; maybe not enough to ever actually win but you have the satisfying realization that you're now performing at the peak of your ability and that's the most you can expect and demand of yourself.
But so many people never enjoy the experience of overcoming obstacles and getting better in the process. They're somehow satisfied with mediocrity and they do nothing to overcome it.
So we need to do away with participation ribbons and medals and reward only those who step into the fire of competition and perform better than anyone else. The rest of the world works that way too and the sooner we acclimate ourselves to that reality, the better off we'll be.