I believe that Winning is a concept that is really in the Process rather than the Outcome.
I once read in an ancient Indian novel that ‘Victory is an ultimate form of Defeat’. I never understood this statement then, and perhaps I still don’t understand the logic behind this concept. However, it started making sense to me when I read the poem, “After Blenheim” written in 1799 by Robert Southey, an English poet. In this poem, Kasper, an old man and his two grandchildren discuss the Blenheim war – one of the most important wars of the Spanish Succession fought between the English and the French early in the eighteenth century. In every verse, the grandfather recalls the events of the war and says that it was a great victory, but he never can explain why. Over fifty thousand people were killed in that war, and a lot of blood was shed, yet it was touted to be a great victory by the Allied forces. It was then that I realized that winning often comes at a huge price – that is when somebody wins, someone else may lose even more.
In today’s world, “winning” has taken even more a singular definition. Winning at all costs, at any cost, seems to be the call of the day, without consideration of what is lost in the process. Winning a war, for example, seems to be so important to some people that they lose sight of the destruction they cause and the number of people that are killed or become homeless as a result. The Second World War was won by dropping an atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The Allied “victory” was marred by indiscriminate destruction and the death of thousands, a devastation that people are still coping with today – a great defeat in itself.
The loss of civilian lives since 2001 in the Afghan and Iraq “war on terror”, far exceeds the number of people killed in the World Trade Center attack or, as a matter of fact, the number of people killed in all the terrorist attacks in the past century. An eventual “victory” in this war, if there should be one, would come at the cost of many more innocent lives. The only way a true victory could be won is if the war is ended and peace is established in the Middle East.
Even our presidential election is a typical example of such a deception. The candidates not only exaggerate their own achievements, but spend more time in demeaning the other candidates at every opportunity they get. When a candidate finally wins, it would not be because of his or her own virtues but because of the vices and faults of the others.
Sports is not an exception to this paradigm either. Use of muscle enhancing drugs, steroids, and growth hormones in competitive sports by athletes has been all over the news in recent days. Many sports stars from team sports like baseball to individual sports like the Olympic track and field have been caught using steroids to win. But this type of winning is the perfect example of a defeat in victory. In the end, many who abused drugs were exposed and all their honor was lost, but the fact remains that this is what winning seems to be about these days.
It is not just what I see on television, hear on the radio, or read in the news magazines that bring out the Blenheims of the twenty-first century. I have also seen this kind of a “losing victory” in my own classroom – an event that I will remember for a long time: Every Friday, a weekly test was passed out in my Spanish class. Often when taking this test, I would look up and see a boy in my class, named Luis, cheat. He would look sneakily at either my paper or the paper of the girl behind me, Alisa. Alisa and I would always get an A+ grade on these tests. Since neither Alisa nor I mentioned Luis’ cheating to the teacher, his grades went up, and I could see Luis triumph in his own mind. I can’t imagine seeing the day when Luis finds out that all his empty “A”s will not carry him far in his life. This incident had also taught me how a short victory can ultimately become a form of defeat by the means we use to achieve it.
From worldwide wars to cheating in classrooms, with so many examples all around us, it is sometimes unclear as to what true winning is. Is it just a form of defeat? Or do we choose to make it a form of defeat by the way we win and the methods we use to achieve it? Now I believe that the meaning of victory is really intrinsic in the process rather than the outcome. Winning by devious or destructive methods is never a victory, but merely a form of defeat. It is better to be defeated but be compassionate, fair, and honest rather than be victorious but have won by brutality, subordination, or deception. Therefore I now realize and believe that Victory could be an ultimate form of Defeat depending on how one achieves their goal.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.