The art of losing and its positive consequences

Photo by Mykl Roventine, via flickr 

Raul Herrera/Staff Writer

Imagine watching your favorite sports game. Whichever team you’re going for is victorious, but for some reason, the losing team gets a trophy, too. Slapped on this trophy is a metal plaque that says “Participation Award.”

In an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, Ashley Merryman demeans the practice and claims that “losing is good for you.” I would say that I agree.

10-18-13 The art of losing cartoon

Giovanni Garcia/FIUSM

Let’s face it. Losing tells us something that winning generally doesn’t: you did something wrong.  Whether it was missing that goal or failing to score a touchdown, something in this competition caused you to not do as well as you should have.

Many see this as a negative thing, and while there is some downbeat to it, there is also a tremendous positive. Losing teaches us that we need to improve our skills. It’s no wonder that a common inspiring phrase to the losers of competitions is “we’ll get them next time.”

It was Thomas Edison who once said “I didn’t fail. I just found two thousand ways how not to make a light bulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work.” When you lose, you don’t simply fail. You just find a way to not win. Ergo, the key to winning to the fabled “next time” is refining oneself and looking inwardly. We see why we didn’t get the trophy this time around and understand what we can do to improve our skills.

Such a focus on refining oneself, and oneself’s skills, is all part of personal growth. You can’t get better at something without knowing where you must improve. To give people an award for losing discourages this practice and thus discourages an incentive to do better. If we tell children from early on that they’ll always get an award regardless of their performance, how should we expect them to compete in the job market in the future? How do we expect them to compete for seats in a university where thousands apply, and only a distilled amount get accepted? How should we expect them to do well on tests if getting an ‘F’ means nothing?

Of course, we must not go to the extreme of being greedy and envious: desiring only accolades and winning to the point that if someone else gets it, we will abhor the victor like we hate getting a burn. Such a practice is destructive to oneself. Winning should be seen as the reward for hard work, not the reward for greed and selfishness.

Now, I’m not a child psychologist. Perhaps participation awards are important to the psyche of a small child. I know I received them in baseball games and karate competitions back when I was young, and I turned out…well, that’s beside the point.

But as far as I know, getting an accolade because we deserve it, not because we “participated,” is much more rewarding and satisfying. Hard work finds its merit. And those who look inwardly and analyze what they did wrong will find themselves improving their skills.

Rather than taking the extremes of “everyone’s a winner” or “pursue the award, kill all in your path, or you will be rejected from this family for a thousand years,” we should look to a different approach. One that rewards those who deserve it, and helps us realize that losing is actually good for us and helps us become better at what we do. 

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