When A Win Isn’t

My youngest son and I went to the Big 12 Wrestling Championships this past weekend. We got to watch the best wrestlers in the Big 12 and we got to watch wrestlers from schools other than OSU also. If you are not from Oklahoma, then you probably don’t understand the rivalry between our two primary state universities. In all sports, and in everything really, we compete. The fans are loud (and sometimes not a little obnoxious) and the competition is fierce. The overall atmosphere is so raucous that we call it Bedlam.

While OSU has the winningest history in the sport, 34 National Championships (more than any other school in ANY sport), there are years where it is more of a battle. This year was one of those and by Sunday afternoon we only had 3 wrestlers in the finals, the same as OU. Wyoming had 4 in the finals and if they swept their matches could win the championship. We needed to win all ours and we needed OU to lose all of theirs to win.

As it happened, Wyoming didn’t fare well in the finals and never really came close. OSU won their 3 finals, including 2 against OU, but OU won their third. By the end of the evening OSU and OU were tied. Co-Champions of the Big 12. Not the result the Cowboy faithful were hoping for, but still a great achievement.

While watching 218 wrestling matches in 4 sessions over 2 days (I can’t think of a much better way to spend a weekend…) I noticed something that doesn’t work well in life.

In a match between two wrestlers, for one person to win, the other must lose. I am not opposed to competition at all. In fact, I am a very competitive person. However, the competition often shifts from who is better at a sport, to who is better at tearing down the other team. We have guidelines of acceptable behavior, sportsmanship we call it, that attempt to keep us from winning at any cost or in any way. We are supposed honor ALL those who compete and behave well, whether we are competing or spectating. This is not always the case, and I saw plenty of poor sportsmanship this weekend.

In life, it is rarely beneficial to win if by doing so the people around you have to lose. There are many examples of this around us, but the worst is when we are in a performance-based culture (rather than a value-based culture) where for one of us to get value, someone else has to lose it. This is what happens in sports when it is not enough to excel at the sport itself and becomes necessary to denigrate the other team and their fans. Basically, we are saying, “For us to be great, you have to be not great, and we are very excited to make sure you know you’re not.”

Unfortunately, I see this in the world around me every day. Just like those overzealous fans, I see a society geared to pit people against each other. If you own this, or wear that, or smell like this, or live here, or drive this, then you are better than those who do not. In its worst form, this culture actually calls the people who are different a variety of names selected to negatively accentuate the difference. For some to “win”, they must select and name others to be “losers.”

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

People are equally and intrinsically valuable. Their value isn’t something they should have to compete for. We are equally valuable, but differently capable. I was an average wrestler in high school. I won a few and lost a lot more. No matter how hard I would have trained, I could never have been the wrestler that A J Ferrari is. He is a phenomenal athlete (Big 12 Champion at 197 lbs. as a freshman), but he is no more or less valuable as a person than everyone else.

You may have a great idea for a process improvement. If it is the best idea, it should win and be implemented. You may have a great idea, but you are not more valuable than the others on your team. Remember hearing, “ideas compete, not people.” It is hard sometimes not to get our identity confused with what we do. In the middle of a difficult match, if I forget that being a Cowboy it is not where I get my value, I may find myself acting like the fans of the other team are “less than.”

I think the weekend proved a great truth. OSU and OU are both great universities. They are both welcome and needed resources for our state. While the competition is fun and can be very emotional, the winners are not more valuable than the losers, they just won the game that day. Ironically, the result of this weekend’s competition could be substituted for the value of each. They are equal.

A culture where someone has to lose for me to win isn’t really a win. It is also an exhausting and dangerous place to live (kind of like a wrestling mat.) While it doesn’t suit sports competitions very well, I would like to live in a community where I don’t have to take something from someone else to have value. For community I like the idea of co-champions. Knowing that my value is unchangeable gives me the ability to let others be great too and it is the Kimray Way.