Sunday, October 26, 2008

Learning how to Lose

Too often in my life, I've been witness to highly respectible people being down in the dumps, upset, and downright angry when they're favorite college football team loses. And they--very strangely--swell up with pride when they find that same favorite group of 18-22 year old underacheiving students with more points on the board than the other team when the clock runs out. And in both cases, I just don't get it.

I was playing HiHo Cherry-O with my daughters yesterday. And when Solstice was within one blueberry of winning, she spun a "spilled bucket." This, of course, meant that she was back to square one, haing to empty her bucket back onto the tree. You know, like in real blueberry picking.

Without much respect for the real-life situation of spinning a spilled bucket, she threw a massive fit. She wanted to win, she said. If she wanted to be happy, well, she had to win, she told us over and over. I did not let her get by this; she put her blueberries back on the tree, tears making rivers on her face and wails woven into the fabric of the air.

I felt mean. After all, it's a stupid game. I mean, really, spilling bucket? Do you know how many times each of the three of us spun a spilled bucket during that game? Having a 15% of having to start over every spin means that a game can go on just about forever.

Candy Land is another dumb game. I used to love it--I mean love it--when I was little. But now I see that all you need to do is shuffle the cards, decide how many players are going to play, and the game is already over; the end is predestined. There's no skill involved at all--whatever card comes next decides how many blue squares you go or how many spaces you skip if it's a special card. And every time I just pray that one of my daughters will get that blasted Princess Frostie card and advance the game to the final round.

I don't mean to be impatient with their games. After all, they love them. But what they don't see is that the overall value of these games can be boiled to one learned skill: how to lose.

I went to a very small middle school that specialized in the fine arts. We were good at those things; I never once lost a jazz band competition. But man, did we ever stink at sports.

And we wanted to be good at them. We knew what it was like to win, but it never happened in those oh-so-valuable physical contests. One might excel at a solo sport, like a track event or wrestling, but team sports were--much like Candy Land--decided before the first whistle: we were going to lose.

But there was something valuable in this. We were all good sports. We enjoyed the game and when we would pull ahead in baseball, or spike the ball in volleyball, we'd go wild. The excitement was not only invigorating, but did it ever make the other team mad. So what if we hit a solo homerun? We were still 12 points behind! Why were we so infuriatingly happy about it?

And man, when we'd win, we'd talk about it for a month.

We were liberated in sports from the importance of it all. We were able to see why sports were fun in the first place and it had nothing to do with winning. It had to do with pushing yourself, getting better, and accomplishing what you didn't think you could just a few weeks ago. We were excited about small accomplishments of our teammates. And when we'd lose, the bus ride home would be filled with happiness, laughter, and storytelling.

This ended when we all transfered to bigger high schools and learned the oneness of winning all over again. We learned that when you lost, bus rides home were spent in quiet self-condemnation. Or else you had to run a mile before getting into the locker room.

You try and guess which one was more fun.

So when four of us play HiHo Cherry-O, three of us are going to lose. And it's the loser's job to be excited for the winner. And when I kick myself for unknowingly drawing Princess Frostie and all but slaughtering my toddlers in Candy Land, I need to remember what's really at stake.

If the game weren't fun, there'd be no reason to win. And if it is fun, there's no shame in losing. If it's not fun, there's no sense in playing.

I just have to keep asking myself: when will my kids be ready for Chutes-N-Ladders?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dude, haven't you learned to force Princess Frostie to the front of the deck? The game is damn unbearable without this trick ...
D.F.