We’re all winners. We’re high-achievers. We’re the fucking best by far, right? And we know it so well that we freely drop these phrases into conversation. I’ve heard it. You’ve heard it. I’ve said it. Anywhere else such egotism would be ridiculed. But of course, we say it with good reason. We are really good at what we do. It’s undeniable. Naturally, we feel these phrases are permissible.
You have to wonder though, how this ‘winning mentality’ impacts on our community.
Just look at any sporting match. A win = !!!, A loss = …
I grew up playing sport in a family where winning a game hardly impacted on the reception I’d receive at the end of the match. That doesn’t mean my parents were always ridiculously enthusiastic. It means they were proud of me and showed it. So coming to a place where losing a match resulted in supporters not even clapping was quite a shock. It’s happened at quite a few matches that I’ve attended. This lack of recognition only adds insult to injury.
Being invested in a game of sport is healthy. Valuing victory is healthy too. But the latter should not outweigh the former. You might crave your team’s success and be devastated if they lose, but in that moment they need your support more than ever. It feels terrible to lose an important match. They need you there, congratulating them on their individual and collective achievements during the game and sharing in the fantastic aftermath of an event where two parties have invested their hearts, minds and bodies in a single goal. Your team needs you there, in a moment of doubt, in order to grasp what we all want: unity. That is something to clap for.
When the rugby team won, people congratulated us on winning. But what meant the most to me was people applauding our unity. Our team spirit. Our gallant, unflinching defence for half an hour. I was so relieved and happy the rugby team won. Not just because it feels nice to be better than other people, but because I was scared of the disappointment of those around me. I was so scared of that deafening silence from one half of the pitch. I KNEW we only had one game and it was ten years and so important. Yet our performance would have been exactly the same and just as deserving of praise had the referee allowed Trinity’s try and we had lost the match. With that pressure in the back of their minds, I felt the players became more preoccupied by the result of the game and others’ appraisal, rather than enjoying the game itself. This is where the ‘winning mentality’ becomes unhealthy. Why play sport unless you’re playing for sport? That way you can have the same drive to win without having the same fear of losing.
But why make such a big fuss about one game? Because part of the process of assimilation into Ormond isn’t just about timetabling and making friends. It involves adopting this ‘winning mentality’. And that can be pretty hard.
Our reaction to a sporting loss is an easy thing to point out and critique, but I think it’s reflective of an undercurrent of judgment or competitiveness that can sometimes creep into behaviour around College. Is there a fear that praising another leaves less room for your own recognition? As if, in conversation, there is some scarcity of praise to be had? Is it only the social lift from subtly, jokingly, putting someone else down? Undoubtedly, the tactics are myriad, veiled, surprising. Socially, there are benchmarks for acceptance that people must reach, rather than acceptance as custom. When naïve of a topic, we weave sentences that obscure any ignorance – like we should be so embarrassed anyway. We refuse to let our benignly interested friends read our essays over our shoulders in fear of judgment. We publicly award our best academics without awarding our most improved academics at A Scholars’ Affair – duly noted this was its first year.
I understand that we’re fresh-faced college kids who haven’t got much under our belts yet. Generally, older people are less insecure and less selfish, and more accepting and giving because they have developed over time a fundamental core of self esteem. So instead of pandering to dreams that everyone will one day love everyone else unconditionally, I’ll weave in a self-interested motive here: you can be the fastest runner in the world and yet still make the runners you train with feel good about their ability. Now that’s a trait employers want! It’s a bloody hard thing, and I’m definitely not saying I’m anywhere near that. But if Ormond wants to produce the highest achieving kiddos it can, I think it should foster an environment where people are confident enough to praise others, even at this age, without a direct motivation to do so.
So, to come back to the sideline – spectating is an easy and underrated way that we can do this. This can be as simple as cheering whether our team wins or loses. That way, the need for validation won’t spam our consciousness so relentlessly. We might not always be playing games for our happiness.
I’ll leave you with this to ponder, perhaps not my favourite tradition:
“Are we good? Are we good? Are we any fucking good? Yes we are, yes we are, we’re the fucking best by far!”