A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Winning And Losing

For the loser now will be later to win / For the times they are a-changin' BOB DYLAN

If we look around it isn't hard to see that we're obsessed with ranking people into winners and losers. Consider the recent parliamentary election debates on TV: all the media's interested in is who 'won' each debate, who came second, and who was the 'loser' - like a political version of The X Factor or The Wheel Of Fortune.

Consider education: what is it but a constant comparing of who's ahead and who's behind in the league table of learning? (My little Ptolemy is so bright, would you believe it, he polished off his SATs even before he could digest proper food, and as for algebraic equations, well, he was doing those in the womb!)

Consider jobs and professions: who's the boss's favourite, who's performing best in the 'office politics' stakes, who's in, who's out, who's won 'The Most Obsequious Toadying Award Of The Year', who's won the ignominious, foot-in-your-face scramble to the top of the greasiest pole in capitalist win-lose 'culture', who's getting the sack, who's getting into the sack with the secretary?

Consider ourselves, the poor foolish ones, the relentlessly competitive denizens of this petty petit-bourgeois society: status-haunted, we twitch the curtains, anxiously checking out the neighbours to see if they're gaining or losing points in the futile, robotic dance of suburban one-upmanship. Is their car better, faster, more expensive than ours, does its almost sensuous, plastic-metallic sheen have a more attractive and lustrous glow? Is their lawn greener, are their weeds less prolific, does their picket fence stand somehow more proud and erect than ours, are their children more wholesome-looking, their wives more decorous, their husbands more tanned and handsome (or do they look just plain worn-out?) Jealousy and despair set in - we're slipping behind! We'd better invite them double-quick to a dinner party, a little ménage à quatre, where we can impress them with our nouvelle mock-Gothic Heston Blumenthal cuisine and our faux-intellectual banter. Otherwise we might fall even further behind in the winning and losing game!

Well, I want no part of it. I have no part in it. I've haven't had a part in it for years. Yes, count me out. It's such a relief to be counted out. You don't have to wait to be excluded. You can simply exclude yourself. Just like that. We can then take on 'the awesome responsibility of embracing our own freedom', as Fireweed said recently in a memorable comment on one of my Turnstone posts. For I have no interest in simplistically dividing up the world into black and white, into good and bad, into winners and losers like a child's superhero comic. Real life, true life, moral life, soul life is not a question of winning or losing at any price in our supposedly evolved consciousness. We could say we have now reached a post-Darwinian, post-evolutionary New Age consciousness - if only we would realise it. We are rather more than mere creatures jockeying for position in the pecking order - or we could be. I want the powerful to admit their weaknesses, the lame to embrace their strengths, the hidden talents in the shyest wallflowers to shine. For comparisons can be odious. And we are all both winners and losers; and we are all neither winners nor losers at all.

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. KING JAMES BIBLE Luke 12:27

When crows find a dying snake, / They behave as if they were eagles. / When I see myself as a victim, / I am hurt by trifling failures. SHANTIDEVA

(The oil painting reproduced above is Francisco de Goya's The Greasy Pole)


George said...

Right on, brother! All I can say is that I agree with you, entirely and emphatically.

Laura said...

You leave me inspired. I get so much from your words...I read your posts and nod and say "yes!" over and over. Thank you.


Tramp said...

How poor our lives if we exclude everything the "loser" has to offer and include everything the "winner" displays to us.
I think that we all have a responsibility to remind the "winners" to admit their weaknesses, and to help the "losers" embrace their strengths as you put it so well. Each time we do that we can add something to the world...Tramp

Rachel Fox said...

'We could be'...indeed.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I agree Robert - one of the good things about living up here is that the locals judge you on how you are now and have absolutely no interest at all in what you did before you came up here and how successful you were. Very refreshing.

George said...

Thanks for the comment on my Zen posting, and, yes, there clearly is some symmetry between what you are writing about in this piece and what I was writing about. The so-called "winners" are usually "birds of appetite," as Merton calls them. They classify themselve as winners because their worlds can seen, measured, and compared against the worlds of similar birds. The worlds of the "losers," however, are considered empty because "no one" and "no body" can be found. As I noted, however, in my response to your comment on my site, it doesn't take much imagination to see that, in terms of the ultimate reality of experiencing life in its fullness, the "winners" may be "losers," and the "losers" may be "winners."

Anonymous said...

I would like to second what Laura says above as her experience of reading your posts is true for me as well.

The Solitary Walker said...

Also, George, it's significant that the birds are carrion-eaters - suggesting an exploitative expediency, or a kind of laziness, and the prey is carrion - apparently sustaining, but actually 'dead' knowledge.

Laura & Fireweed - thanks for your empathy. Comments like this make it all worthwhile!

And thanks, everyone, for all your comments.