compete v. strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same.
There really isn’t such a thing as a fair fight these days. A competition that isn’t secretly stacked somehow – where the opponents are only using their raw, nature born, gifts to win. I sincerely doubt it, anyway. As humans we all engage in competition of some sort during our lifetimes, more often than you realize when you really come to think about it – sometimes when we don’t even know it. It’s hard to know what the rules are or who sets them. For example, every time I send out my resume, I am competing with someone who might be best friends with the HR manager. That simple fact makes the rules of the competition much more than what I submitted in black and white. My unknown opponent has a leg up and I will most likely be the loser and won’t even be called back. If I had known, I might have made some phone calls or connections on Linked In – but the rules are pretty few and the ultimate end is to win – to be hired – and it’s not about fairness or following the rules. It’s about who gets the job.
There has been much discussion lately about Lance Armstrong and his admission of doping during the length of his cycling career. I don’t usually go for this sort of topic, but I made the time to actually watch the Oprah interview out of curiosity. I fully expected to be disgusted with him, but to my surprise I really wasn’t. In fact, the more I pondered his situation and admission, I simply felt the best reaction was to shrug my shoulders in disappointment and pity. Sure, he’s cocky and arrogant even now after he’s been humiliated – but I don’t hate him. In my mind, he’s simply human like the rest of us. He set out to win at all costs, and succeeded.
When you think about it, the Lance Armstrong we all knew was a type of fictional super hero. Competing in a sport that sat behind so many other more popular international sports, it was inspiring to see someone with such super human ability take on a literal, harrowing road to victory. When he over came cancer and still won, he became an inspiration, a role model – almost an underdog who fell from glory and made his way back to the top through sheer will and raw athletic ability. Now Lance is just another exceptional person who won, not by natural methods or talent alone – but who stacked the odds in his favor by doping and enhancing his abilities in order to win. He’s not a role model or hero, but he’s still won.
The nature of competition is to win at all costs, doing whatever it takes. Theoretically, whether a person cheated or not doesn’t really seem to matter all that much. They still experience “the winning moment” and no one can really ever take that intoxicatingly wonderful moment away. In those moment, all of the races that Lance Armstrong won are still just as sweet. His sham organization, Oprah interview and sullied name cannot change those winning moments in the history of his life. Moments that you or I may never experience. And that’s the main point of competition – to win. Not to be a good or charitable person or even a role model. It’s just not what the word means.
This is why we love “the underdog” and “the cinderella story.” They embody the idea of winning all on one’s own merit and by following the rules. By doing this, they become something more than just the winner. That is when heroes, icons, and role models are born. The perfect example being the training montage from Rocky 4 where Rocky is in the frozen siberian tundra jogging on the edge of a mountain to train. In contrast the next scene cutting to Ivan Drago being injected with steroids and training on a treadmill in warmth and comfort.
In the end Rocky wins (and ends communism, but that’s another story). But in reality, could he really have won? I mean, Ivan Drago was 3 times his size AND was on HGH most likely. The man killed Apollo in the ring for God’s sake.
We show our growing progeny movies like Rocky when they are young to instill the value of following the rules and working against the odds. We hope when they are old enough that they will choose the high road like the examples we tried to give them- but it’s not an easy path. As much as we love them and admire them, the underdog rarely wins and, yes, of course, it’s better to strive to be a role model or hero and not just win all of the time. But just like those cyclists who weren’t doping in those Tour D’France races, we won’t know their names. They are undoubtedly better people than Lance Armstrong; probably living very full and gratified lives. But they didn’t win – and that was the whole point.
“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The loser may be the better person, but if feels damn good to win. We fight wars, play sports and buy lottery tickets all on a quest to get that elusive feeling. Competing to win is in our blood. As a parent, I do my best to raise a Rocky, hoping that when the time comes for him to compete, he’ll choose the mountain and not the treadmill.