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Quitting and Winning

America loves winners. We always have. The saying goes that nobody ever remembers who finished second and that’s very true here in the United States. We can’t abide silver medals. We don’t even consider bronze. Place and show are meaningless.

Quitters have no place in our society. Giving up is not an option. We admire those who stick with it, even though the end be bitter – but we admire those who triumph over adversity more – triumph being the key word in that phrase, by the way.

So what does that tell you about us as a nation? It tells you that we have an inherent sense of rightness, a moral certainty that whatever we undertake is the correct path and we will stick with it until we have “won.” It means that even if we know we are doing the wrong thing, we’ll keep doing it until we reach the finish line, and in first place. We’ll even convince ourselves that we have won of “moral victory” in order to placate that competitive urge to win at all counts.

We are a country of Vince Lombardi and George S. Patton. We are also a country of Vietnam and Iraq. We are a country of raging capitalists who are foaming at the mouth to take 100% of the market share at all costs, a nation of cutthroat bankers and corporate pirates who believe in profits first, morality second…because that’s what the market demands. We justify ourselves by saying that if we don’t do these horrible things, someone else will. The sad thing is, we’re often right in that regard.

So what is the virtue of winning at all costs? I just don’t see it. I can’t get down with just crushing the competition and setting aside morality and reason to worship the almighty golden idol. We go for the gold in a very literal sense here – it’s what our every waking hour is all about. The problem here is that when there’s a winner, there has to be losers and currently the biggest losers (reality television notwithstanding) are the American people. We are paying higher prices and receiving lower wages. We are made to feel fortunate we have a job at all and then worked like dray horses until we are of no further value, then kicked to the curb like yesterday’s garbage.

We tell ourselves that we have “family values” but exclude all but the families that look exactly like us in our values. We bicker and we squabble over non-issues while greedy politicians, lawyers, bankers and businessmen steal our future right from under our noses. The Republicans tell you that the Democrats will steal your money with higher taxes to pay for deadbeats who don’t want to work. The Democrats SHOULD be telling you that the Republicans are quietly voting for corporate tax breaks and tax cuts for the very wealthy while they practice slash and burn economics on the poorest segments of our society.  

Who’s right? Both of them…and neither of them. The truth is, we have become a society of zealots who can’t stand the thought of second place. If we’re in second, we do everything we can to get into first. If we are in first, we do everything we can to stay there. Look around you – athletes take steroids to enhance their performance. Contractors cut corners to come in under budget and on schedule. Politicians pull strategies of questionable legality in order to ram their agendas down the throats of the people who may or may not have voted them in. We spend enormous amounts of money to tell ourselves how good we feel about ourselves, our country and our products. Politicians spend millions to tell you why they are a good, decent sort of person who will look out for the interests of the people while their opponents are Godless pedophiles as corrupt as Tammany Hall and twice as brazen, ready to sell you and your children out for a dollar. The fact is, nearly every politician is in the latter camp. There are very few who have any principals whatsoever – and those that do have a great deal of difficulty staying in office. I’d vote for someone with integrity every time out but most people will vote for the guy who has the best ads.

I’ve grown weary and sick of winning. Winning has brought us to the brink of economic disaster. Winning has brought us a corrupt political system that has demonstrated without a shred of doubt that neither major party gives a fig about the needs of the people and only follows the almighty dollar by the nose. Winning has given us a false sense of our own moral certainty, allowing us to think that everything we do is the right thing to do. Ask a bunch of dead Iraqis and Afghans how right we are, or the millions of Vietnamese who died because of our right thing to do. I wonder how many Libyans are going to die because of our right thing to do over there.

I think that winning is overrated. Winning is for losers. People who need to win that badly have something missing in their self-esteem. I don’t need to win to feel good about myself. I just need to believe that I’m doing the right thing. Doing the right thing means helping out someone who needs it. Doing the right thing means giving the sick not only the medicine and medical care they need, but a means to recover from their illness. Doing the right thing means giving the unemployed temporary funds to pay their bills while they either find a new job or train for a new career. Doing the right thing means supporting the arts and culture of our society, seeing to it that our children are properly educated and that the infrastructure of our society is seen to.

Doing the right thing doesn’t mean denying health care to the elderly or even to the young. Doing the right thing doesn’t mean telling a teacher who is already struggling to make ends meet that they are going to have to pay double for their health care what they were paying previously. Doing the right thing doesn’t mean playing political games in order to benefit the rich and the powerful.

Winning isn’t everything. Winning isn’t the only thing either. Sometimes quitting has its virtue – when you are doing the wrong thing. Sometimes quitting is the best idea ever. How much would our country have benefitted if some of the people who raped our economy had stopped after their first $100 million and said “we’ve made enough.” Sometimes discretion IS the better part of valor – but doing the right thing is ALWAYS more important than winning. That’s a lesson our country used to know and it’s high time we learned it again.


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