The Winning Sinning

Unlikely amoebas.

What is winning? What is risk? What is glory?

To win without risk is to triumph without glory.
— Pierre Corneille (1606 – 1684), ‘The Cid,’ 1636

Tough questions when it’s early on a Monday morning. Too tough. But I can tell you this much with 100 percent certainty: The continued existence of Charlie Sheen has absolutely ruined the internet for the term “winning.”

Out of the first 31 results in a Google Image Search for “winning” a whopping 28 of them had something to do with ye olde whack nut. On the highway of life Charlie Sheen is a single-vehicle accident.

I guess we could say he’s a winner when it comes to publicity.

I’m going to take a stab at my own definition of “winning.” Your mileage may vary.

Winning is a victory condition, measured against yourself or others, as determined by a set of rules (as in a game or contest).

I’ve thought about this and I’ve come to a conclusion: If you don’t have rules than you don’t have a game or contest. Without rules it must be something else. Perhaps a creative activity.

Logically it follows that when rules are disregarded the victory condition can never be met. Ever. There is no win.

“Let’s see who’s the best thrower! The winner will be the person who throws the ball the farthest.” The rules of the contest have just been established.

“You’re on!” The rules are now stipulated.

Lying to ourselves must be fun because we excel at it.

Person One throws the ball. Person Two yells, “Hey, look! It’s Charlie Sheen!” He then kicks the ball a further distance. When both players assess the results, Mr. Super Foot appears to be the “winner” and has been established as the best thrower.

This example might sound trivial but what about when the stakes are higher? What if an $87 million contract is on the line? What if the status of “winner” brings wealth, celebrity and a life of comfort and ease and a trophy wife forty-years younger? Does it still matter then?

I’m of the opinion that yeah, you bet your friggin’ ass it does.

Did Person Two win? He may have obtained the rewards that go with victory but in my world he is no winner.

Imagine a person playing a game of solitaire. The game stalemates with the needed card log-jammed in an inaccessible position. The player moves the card in violation of the rules and goes on to obtain the victory condition. The person tells himself he “won.” The person meets friends and relates the story about his win.

In my world this person is either insane or a sociopath or both. We all get to choose our own realities. Some of us are just better at it.

Once upon a time I found myself in a game of Risk with some stranger’s kid at game night at the local library. I nicknamed the kid Snot Nose. When it was his turn, he would put all the dice on the table so the six-spot was facing upwards. He’d then elaborately cup the dice without changing their positions, wave his hands in the air, then “roll” a bunch of sixes. (Six is the most desirable roll in the game of Risk.) After a few turns I said to him, “Do you think I don’t know what you’re doing? It would have been more likely than a monkey would write a Shakespearean sonnet than for you to get all those sixes.”

Snot Nose, of course, denied everything. The kid had brass. I then said, “This game is absolutely meaningless under these conditions.” I got up and left the table. Snot Nose learned nothing about the game of Risk or things like which strategies were more effective than others. I dare say if he learned from the experience it was likely to disguise his cheating better in the future. Ah, learning.

One problem with contests of any nature is that opportunity is rampant. Even in the ball throwing contest example above there are many possible ways to cheat. Cheating is easy. Too easy. And it can be a remarkably successful tactic. My guess is that most cheating goes completely undetected. Most cheaters probably get away with it. The tip of an iceberg comes to mind.

The other problem, of course, is that the results for “winning” can be so high that natural human temptation takes over. Most athletes don’t achieve professional success but the rewards for those who make it are great.

This sort of thinking led to another one of my personal axioms:

Tom’s Law #42
To find the person cheating in any human activity look for the winner.

Hey, Pope! I’ve got my eye on you. According to this Law you’re probably one big cheater. Win the Tour de France seven times in a row? Hello! Did you just get the record for home runs in a single season? As of now Barry Bond is a person of interest in this investigation.

See if you can find other ways to apply this simple yet effective law.

The pitfalls of cheating may often go undetected but they can be severe. The process of determining who is “best” or qualified can be of some importance. Imagine that your physician cheated his way through medical school. Would that impact your opinion of his abilities as a surgeon as he rolled up his sleeves to cut you open? Count backwards from 100 while you think it over.

Cheating does at least two things: It is ultimately self-defeating to the societal group and it denies true personal grown and awareness of self. Cheaters may win but they damage themselves in the process. They may have the ill-gotten spoils but they’ve injured people around them and themselves, whether they know it or not.

The concept of winning requires rules. When rules are broken the contest is absolutely meaningless. Even if the cheaters got away with it and stole what was rightfully due to someone else.

Bringeth forth thy pith and vinegar

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