Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Everybody loves a winner

‘If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm,’ said the legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi, after whom the superbowl trophy is now named.

Lombardi: 'show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser'
He also said ‘If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?’ Clever but perhaps not that wise.

The simple answer to Lombardi’s question is that, in competitive games, the score is part of the fun. But we ought to bear in mind that, as well as being competitive, they’re also games.

In any case, I’m not quite sure when, or why, the word ‘loser’ turned into apparently the most disparaging insult we can throw at anyone – especially in the States. Losing is painful and it seems doubly unfair to add contempt to the injury.

There’s no denying that in certain situations, winning is crucial. The advantages of having won the Second World War are obvious, particularly if we consider the alternative. Besides, the victory benefited practically everyone involved, not least the Germans and Japanese, a fact which in itself rather relativises the concept of ‘loser’.

Even in marginally less significant matters, there are times when winning is important. For example, when England beats France at rugby, as I was delighted to see on Saturday, that’s an occasion for heartfelt pleasure. On the other hand, when things are reversed and France beats England, as happened last season, it’s best to show sensible restraint and silent moderation. Nothing to crow about there.

More generally, though, I’m not convinced that the winning side is always the one that has any claim to superiority, except in the most obvious sense of having come out on top. When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, did we stand more with them or with their victims? If, as seems likely, they take over again, where will our sympathies lie?

No, the losers aren’t always inferior, the winners aren’t always admirable. Let’s not forget that George W Bush was twice a winner and we’ve all been made the losers for it.

Rudyard Kipling was wrong about many things. But he was bang on the money when he wrote ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same,’ you’ll be a man my son1.

Great if you can always come out on top but it doesn’t happen to many of us. When you can’t and you don’t let it get you down – that’s really admirable.

In another mood, Lombardi himself saw that: ‘The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.’

Fallen of the world stand up. You have nothing to lose but your sense of defeat.

1. Where the context requires, references to the male gender include references to the female.

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