I had the experience of attending a school morning assembly recently. Things have changed since I was at secondary school – there were no hymns, no prayers, no reading and no litany of misdemeanours.
Instead, the students were given a lesson on the importance of winning at sport. Although there was a subtext that winning, even in individual disciplines, is actually a team effort, the over-riding message seemed to be that winning is all that matters.
Regular readers of my posts will not be surprised to learn that this did not go down well with me. How do we motivate people to try if we tell them that anything other than winning is a failure?
The message was illustrated by asking who came second in a number of major sporting events and making a big deal of the fact that no-one remembered.
I neither know nor care enough about sport to accurately recall any of the examples given, so I’ll use one of my own to point out the flaw in this argument. When Jessica Ennis won the 2012 Olympic Heptathlon gold medal, the silver was taken by Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany. Did you remember that? Probably not, but does that make Lilli Schwarzkopf a loser?
Not in my book. I’m guessing a large proportion of the population of Germany remembers her achievement. While she herself was probably devastated to miss out on a gold medal, I’m sure she managed to take pride in the silver she did manage to win. And when she shows her silver medal to her grandchildren, I don’t suppose they’ll say, “Only a silver, Oma? You’re such a loser.”
It’s great to win. It’s something to aspire to and to be proud of. I’ll even accept that it’s important. But it isn’t the only thing that matters. When we focus on winning above all else we negate the achievements of all but a tiny minority of the population.
That cannot be conducive to healthy self-esteem.