The shame of victory, the social-appropriateness of defeat.

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat was an old slogan from ABC’s Wide World of Sports in the 1970s. A lot has changed in the 40 years since that slogan was popularized.

Earlier this week I overheard a boy holler, “I’m gonna win!  I’m gonna beat you!” and his mother immediately admonished him.  It caught my attention briefly because although it was just harmless kid-competition, it clearly embarrassed her, and my suspicion was that it embarrassed her because her son probably was going to win at the event in progress.  Of course, no one likes a braggart, but the kid wasn’t being over-the-top about it and it is normal for children, especially boys, to engage in the very human activity of competition and to take pleasure in winning.

I forgot about the incident until Friday when, during a speech therapy session that another mother was observing, one of the little boys in the group exclaimed, “I’m going to win!”  Since the task we were doing did not involve any competition, I started to tell him, “This is not a winning or losing activity, it’s an everybody-get-it-done activity” but his mother jumped in and corrected him before I could.  When we finished that task, the boys and I played a game to practice categorizing vocabulary items which involved competing to see who could be the first one to accumulate a word from each of five given categories.  I guess you could say everyone “wins” if they participate because they learn the words, but the actual game (and the only part the boys really cared about) involved someone winning by beating the other players and being first.

The boys tried to remind each other regularly about their individual imminent victory.  However, it was really stressing out the mother who was watching; whenever her son would get excited about acquiring another word and start to say “I’m about to win!” she’d jump in and say, “It’s not about winning; that’s not the point.”  I finally gently and respectfully pointed out that the game was in fact a competition and the object of the game was to win.

That was twice in one week that I had noticed the same thing from two different mothers, and I wondered what was going on with all this mother anxiety about children competing and getting excited about trying to win.  I decided I would explore the idea in a post when I had time and then forgot about it.

Until yesterday morning, when I had to take one of my daughters to run the Chelsea Heart and Sole 5K race. As I was sitting near the finish line waiting for my girl, I heard a boy say to his siblings, “I beat you!” as the family walked away from the finish line.  “It’s not about that!” his mother snapped at him.

OK, what?

Isn’t the point of a race to compete and hopefully win?  I think so and here is my evidence:

image

Why have a time clock and finish line if there is no goal to compete or to win?  Even if you know you will be bested by someone else, you are still racing against them because that is the point of a race.  If races are not about running to win, then why does the 5K website note:

Overall Male and Female winners in each event receive a trophy.

Now, there were certainly many people participating in the 5K who didn’t care about winning because they weren’t racing, they were participating.  Their goal wasn’t to race but to complete the course as a social event for some fresh air and exercise.  This is a small town and these kinds of events are also social gatherings. That’s why they brought over a van load of folks from the senior center and that’s why some special-needs high schoolers in wheel chairs were participating.

My nine-year-old daughter’s time was just shy of 40 minutes for the 5K; when it comes to running, she’s more enthusiastic than talented.  Her time put her across the finish line just barely ahead of the grannies in their motor scooters – and that is okay!  It is okay to run the race knowing that others are faster and will beat you.  What it is not okay to do is to conclude that because some people weren’t trying to win, therefore the point of a race isn’t for someone to win and that it’s wrong for others to try to win just because some people can’t.

But the boy who said this is in my daughter’s after-school running club.  These kids were there to race, to see who could run the fastest and win. It was a friendly competition, entirely normal and healthy.  The purpose of competitive games is to see who can win.  Why pathologize normal competition?  Why should people who win be ashamed of winning?

Of course, a humble attitude about winning is necessary, but that doesn’t mean that the point of a race isn’t still to compete and win.  The mothers I observed this week kept telling their sons that the point of a clearly competitive event wasn’t actually to compete.  If they thought their sons were being boastful, they might have corrected them by saying, “Don’t brag” or “Be humble.”  Instead they told them that they were wrong to think that the point of an obviously competitive event (whether it be a game or a race) was something other than competing.

Is this competition anxiety reserved for boys?  Particularly for white boys?  (I’m only using “white” here because those are the only kind of boys I routinely interact with because I live and work in a nearly mono-ethnic community.  Also, when I lived in a more diverse town, I never observed a non-white mother correct her son for trying to win in a competition.  Maybe if I have any non-white mothers reading, you can weigh in here and let me know if this happens in other ethnic/racial groups, too.)

I don’t think the mothers I observed admonishing their boys were bad mothers; in fact, I think they were very good mothers.  They were experiencing anxiety because they unconsciously perceived that their sons were violating an unspoken social norm and they were doing what they believed was right and moral for training their sons.  What I find interesting is that this social norm even exists: competing or winning or wanting to win or saying you want to win or noticing you won or expressing any pleasure in having won seems to be the new shame for (white?) boys.

 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control,[b] lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

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12 thoughts on “The shame of victory, the social-appropriateness of defeat.

  1. Another interesting post. I come from a culture where it is completely unacceptable for anybody – children, adults or Olympic athletes – to announce publicly that they’re about to win, even if they’re clearly going to do so. And yet these same people care about winning very much.

    My friends who are parents have all read the research that says it’s more important for children to be congratulated for the effort they put in than for whether they come first or not. The idea is, if children are congratulated for effort, they’ll exert themselves further next time and thereby learn determination and resilience, whereas if they’re only congratulated for results, they get the idea that whether you do well is a function of talent, not hard work, and it just takes one set back to make them believe they don’t have the talent.

    Could this have been what was going on?

    If it’s the ‘every child wins a prize’ thing, that’s different. That’s pukeworthy and, from what I’ve seen, kids themselves see through it.

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    • I come from a culture where it is completely unacceptable for anybody – children, adults or Olympic athletes – to announce publicly that they’re about to win, even if they’re clearly going to do so. And yet these same people care about winning very much.

      My friends who are parents have all read the research that says it’s more important for children to be congratulated for the effort they put in than for whether they come first or not. The idea is, if children are congratulated for effort, they’ll exert themselves further next time and thereby learn determination and resilience, whereas if they’re only congratulated for results, they get the idea that whether you do well is a function of talent, not hard work, and it just takes one set back to make them believe they don’t have the talent.

      Could this have been what was going on?

      I think not, based on what they said. Were this the case, I’d have expected the mothers to say something like, “No one likes braggarts.” or “Alright, that’s enough boasting.” It would have been quite appropriate to correct the child for being overly prideful or obnoxiously competitive.

      But that isn’t what they said. Rather, they corrected their sons by saying that the point of the competition wasn’t actually to compete or win. I think that’s a confusing message for the child. It doesn’t teach him to be a gracious winner; it teachers him that competition is wrong. And in cases where it would be wrong to try to compete, that would be fine, but when playing a competitive game or running a race, why discourage competition?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You may have stumbled upon the primacy of the herd mentality. In the end, it promotes mediocrity. I wa going to link the Wide World of Sports inro but, this is more to the point. Excellence on this order is the product of competition.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pertinent to the original post.

    This is the first time I have linked something from a feminist in a positive vein. Recently, she gave a lecture at Georgetown, I think, and the campus feminists were up in arms about her. They don’t like her. I saw something else, taken from the BBC, where in Harriet Harman caught all kinds of grief from young feminists.
    They are starting to eat their own as they concentrate into radicalism.
    It is going to get worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Completely off topic but, our blog mistress has had problems with deer. From commenter redpillgirlnotes.
    “@ ton I do occasionally get deer (when the apples are ripe and dropping) but a few years back an intern studying ag science who spent the summer helping out taught me a so simple it’s stupid deer strategy — plastic grocery sacks! Tie them around the place. They fill with air and move w the wind just enough that it scares the deer off. I didn’t believe him but tried it anyway. Works like a charm! 🙂 anyone here battling deer eating all your hard work, give it a try”

    Redpillgirlnotes lives in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t think the deer will behave any differently there. This is her blog.
    http://notesfromaredpillgirl.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved the 5k picture. My first try in high school was 31:14, and to this day I’m not quite sure whether I actually ran a full 5k that day, since they were pulling up the course flags before I got to them. Loved cross country because even though I never won a race outright, I could “win” by setting a PR. Let the young lady know that it gets better–I eventually got to 15:59 my final race in high school. (65 pounds ago, sigh)

    But to the point, well said. Male competitiveness is more obvious than female, but speaking as the daddy of four daughters who are also starting to run, and who are very into music and other things, you can see the competitiveness in girls, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. @Bike: in my youth I was pushing to break 32 minutes over 10K. But I could make top 30 in a cross country race, and if I made top 20 the “B” team in my running club would beat the “A” teams from other clubs.

    There were three club members who had sub four minute miles in their past in those days: Dick Quax, John Bowden, and John Davies (who was still running in his fifties). I was one of the plodders, but I could still help the team.

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  7. Pingback: We need to compete. [Bring back Bullrush] | Dark Brightness

  8. Angry Harry has many articles up about the treatment of boys and girls in the re-education centers. He contends that the attack on boys is intentional, based on hate, and hurts girls too. Who wins? The feminist movement does. Who loses? We all do.

    My guess is that these mothers were deceived by the education trade workers into handicapping their boys.

    ============================================
    http://www.angryharry.com/esWhyDidTeachersAdoptPoorTeachingMethods.htm?note

    [key quote]
    It is sometimes described as the Look-Say method.

    The idea behind this was to give girls an advantage over boys by teaching all the children to approach their learning through more holistic, right-brained methods as opposed to allowing them to use their left-brained functions – logic, analysis, sequential processing etc.

    The fact that this policy continued to result in a deterioration of language skills for both the girls and the boys over three decades was immaterial to the feminist groups, whose only concern was that girls would be better off educationally than boys.
    ===========================================

    One of my cousins said she saw some of the older men in the community coming to the coffee shop she was at. They used scooters because they could no longer walk like they did. She said that as soon as they saw that one of the other old guys was going to get his scooter to the door near the same times as they would, they would get their scooter going as fast as they could. So would he. They did this most every day. A man may not be able to run any more, but he can still compete. It never stops. It is part of being a man.

    tjp

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