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Zen and the Art of Olympic Watching

I will not play at tug o’ war
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses
And everyone grins
And everyone cuddles
And everyone wins.

–Shel Silverstein

As Apolo Ohno moved from the back of pack all the way to the front of line of skaters, shooting past them in the first heat, I grabbed Josh’s arm and shrieked.  And I don’t even know why because I truly don’t care who wins or loses.  If it’s not Apolo Ohno, I’ll shed my happy tears for whichever lithe speedskater is on the podium.  I’m a cheerleading whore.

The fact is that unlike Josh who is such a die-hard Yankee that he pees blue and white-striped urine during baseball season, I’ve never rooted for a team.  If I temporarily align myself with a team at all, it’s usually based on their name or the colour of their uniform.  My love is fickle–once the game is over, I never think about them again.  I have no loyalty to America in the Olympics, even though I’ll also admit that I stand on my bed, cross my heart, and sob when our national anthem is played.  If I have to root for someone on the slopes, I’ll pick the one with the craziest story or the one I read about in a magazine or the one who sort of looks like a Japanese Edward Cullen.  And, again, I’ll usually forget about them by the time I turn off the television.

But even without any sense of loyalty, without the fist pumping or the shouting, I love watching the games and being part of a moment; because, for me, sports have always been about being part of something more than they’ve been about winning or losing.  I just like getting picked for the team–it doesn’t matter to me if I win or lose after the game starts.  This feeling extends to all aspects of life–I just don’t have a competitive side and I don’t know if I fully understand the mentality of trying to best another person.  If I compete at all, it’s against myself and if I fall short of beating my own running time or winning another round of chess, I don’t have an internal reaction.  I simply note it, shrug, and move on.

I separate the idea of winning or losing from the concept of rejection–which I consider a different beast altogether, one that affects me deeply.  My husband and I are both writers, therefore rejection is part of our daily existence.  And it sucks.  It sucks to need to pass through a gatekeeper to get to your happiness whether it’s college or a new job or an article.

Sometimes, losing and rejection (or, on a more positive note, winning and acceptance) are intertwined and not easily separated.  But at its core, rejection is about judgment–your work is either good or bad.  You’re either worthy or unworthy.  If I expect the twins to exist in this world, I will need to teach them that rejection happens and you have two choices–to keep moving forward or to drop the idea altogether.  In some cases, it’s worth plugging away and making attempt after attempt and other times, it’s best to walk away and maintain your sanity.  Judging that threshold is personal to each individual.

But even if I’m going to tell the twins not to take losing badly, in the same breath, I’ll also tell them that they never need to embrace rejection or laugh off rejection or not give rejection its full weight on their heart.  Asking people to do that is cruel.  It’s like asking someone to not mind a good gut punch.  Rejection fucking hurts–it’s painful to place your heart on the table and say, “I want this” and have another person–someone with no more worth than you (and that’s the Juddhist in me seeing all people as inherently equal in status)–shake their head and reject you.  I’ll teach the twins that they’re allowed a long frustrated cry or depending on the level of the rejection, a few days of moping.

But winning or losing is different, even when the stakes are high as they are in the Olympics.  And that is what I’ve been trying to teach the twins in reference to sports and games.  That winning is fine and losing is also fine.  That there’s only so much happiness that can come from winning and what happiness does come is fleeting.  There’s always the next time, the next slope, the next race.  And that is the beauty of places where you can win or lose.  Because even if you lose now, you may win next time.  And vice versa.  It’s too hard to hold onto the happiness of a win–even if it happens at the highest honour in your field–knowing that you will need to compete again in the future.  Winning is not an end point.  It’s only a pause.

Winning or losing is not a question of worth–every single one of those athletes in Vancouver is considered worthy, regardless of rank.  Acceptance is about finding out whether or not you’re worthy of trying.  Winning is about taking the chance you’re given and somehow doing better–based on luck and hard work–than how everyone else did in that same moment.  And while it may be frustrating to know that you can do better and not bring your best performance to the moment, the final results are not based on judgment for the most part.  Either you had the fastest time or you didn’t.  Either you jumped the farthest or you didn’t.  Unlike rejection, there isn’t another human giving their opinion and affecting your life.  The results–with few exceptions–are based on fact rather than opinion.  And those facts could change easily if we held the event again.  The person who won the gold knows that; that if the event repeated itself, they may not come out on top a second time.  And therefore, their win is just that–marking a certain moment in time rather than stating an absolute truth.

I want the twins to take this attitude of enjoying the process; of just being happy to be a part of something.  I want them to have a good time on the playing field without worrying about what the final result will be.  The ChickieNob has already told me that she plans on being an Olympic runner and I think that would rock if she enjoys running and doesn’t just enjoy winning.  The kumbaya Juddhist in me loves the idea of “it’s not who wins or loses, but how you play the game.”  I want them to learn sportsmanship–about not making yourself shine, but being part of the whole, of helping everyone feel good about themselves as they leave the field.  I want them to be good winners–ones who don’t believe that coming in first means they are better humans because of that–and good losers–ones who do not have their self-worth tied up in comparative moments.

So why did I shriek for Ohno as he passed over the finish line?  Because it was the cardinal rule of the non-competitive sportsperson: it’s how he played the game.

For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.

–Grantland Rice

This is what she said.  Click here to find out what he said.

*obviously, Josh and I are trying this he said/she said idea.  We’re open to topic ideas for future musings that show both sides of the story.  You can email them to me and I’ll run them by Josh.  As well as feedback about whether this is interesting, enlightening, or a waste of your freakin’ time (but…er…why are you wasting more time telling me that?).


1 Siera { 02.15.10 at 1:48 pm }

So well put. I like your ideas behinf winning and losing. I wish certain Vancouverites could realize the games are about the atheletes giving their all for something they love and not making the games about protesting and vandalism.

2 a { 02.15.10 at 2:06 pm }

I tend to lean more towards Josh’s view on this topic. I think the end result is important, but the ends do not justify the means if one behaves badly.

My view is that if you take the thrill of winning away, most people will not work hard enough to excel. Learning to be a gracious participant, whether winning or losing, is the most important part of competition. I think we should all have the chance to learn both sides of that equation.

3 liljan98 { 02.15.10 at 2:11 pm }

I LOVE the idea of he said/she said and I’ll be heading over to Josh’s blog in a moment. You made a great point about seperating rejection from winning/losing and what you wrote about rejection is so so true. Even though I have to admit I am (or can be) a competetive person. Not a die-hard sports fan, but a fan nonetheless. And it pains me to see my hockey team lose and it doesn’t matter if they played well and just weren’t lucky enough. Or if they play bad and wouldn’t deserve to win in the first place. I WANT them to win no matter what. I’m wondering what that says about me, now that I’ve read your post 🙂

4 Kir { 02.15.10 at 3:06 pm }

I like what you wrote about winning/losing and the feeling of rejection as oppossed to just losing. To do your best, with little thought to the idea of actually winning because of it. Although I think we all go into things to do our best and win (or maybe that’s just me)

I have to say that I am not a huge sports fan, I follow things to have something to talk to John about and he appreciates my follow through with it, but I will admit to being a HUGE fan of the sports movie. “ROCKY”, “RUDY”, “INVINCIBLE” , “REMEMBER THE TITANS” I could watch movies like that over and over again and get teary eyed every single time. I love that feeling that someone, somewhere OVERCAME something. Beat it, mastered it, became GOOD at it and in that moment, had success not only for themselves but for us as a human race. Geeky…but true. *sniff*

5 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 02.15.10 at 4:48 pm }

I love the He Said/She Said. Both of you are entirely reasonable and have great points to make, which makes it even more interesting.

I also don’t have any sports allegiances with the exception of one college team, and it’s liberating to go to sporting events and not be upset when one team loses. Having followed that one college team, when they win it is great but I don’t know that it is worth the heartache of the big losses.

6 Calliope { 02.15.10 at 5:06 pm }

just don’t throw any coffee mugs…

7 Rebecca { 02.15.10 at 8:51 pm }

Loved what you said about teaching your children that rejection is a part of life & how to cope when this happens. I also liked what you said about winning /losing. I also get caught up in the emotion of seeing athletes participate in the Olympics, knowing all of the work & passion they have put into their sport is so moving !

8 Bea { 02.16.10 at 7:32 am }

I left my main response over at he said, so I’ll just summarise here: it’s partly whether you win or lose, and it’s partly how you play the game.

Yeah – teaching kids about rejection. Not on the Parenting Fun list. I like your plan, though.


9 Caitlin { 02.16.10 at 11:48 am }

I view winning and losing the same way…my husband, however, does not. Winning is EVERYTHING to him – and unfortunately that has been passed down to my step-son. He is only 5 years-old and already a sore loser. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I can’t even stand playing games with him because he always has to win. If not, the next hour is torture trying to get him to smile or even do anything else because he is so mopey. Then I get yelled at because I was supposed to *let* him win.

How does the child learn? I am afraid he wil grow up thinking the world is all rainbows and sunshine and the first time he doesn’t succeed will be detrimental.

10 Lavender Luz { 02.16.10 at 5:04 pm }

I would love to adopt (haha) your views on competing, on trying, on winning/losing. I haven’t read Josh’s post yet (heading over next), but I have a feeling I’m more wired that way.

These points I loved: “It’s too hard to hold onto the happiness of a win–even if it happens at the highest honour in your field–knowing that you will need to compete again in the future. Winning is not an end point. It’s only a pause.”

“about not making yourself shine, but being part of the whole, of helping everyone feel good about themselves as they leave the field. ”

and “coming in first means they are better humans because of that.”

Off to see what He Said.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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