You might notice it when bowlers eye each other’s scores, or when kids running down the street shout joyfully, “I made it to the corner first!”
It seems whenever we talk about anything — tennis, golf, music, cooking – it has to be in terms of ranking.
We care about top-seeded tennis players, low handicap golfers, world-class musicians and iron chefs.
Issues of who’s on top and who’s on the bottom permeate our lives.
I’m not sure it’s such a good thing.
Sure, the urge to excel can spur you on. Seeing excellence in action can inspire you to go and do likewise.
But when winning becomes the only thing it can drive some people to do anything to get there. We’ve recently seen how that can wreck companies and endanger whole economies.
And then there’s the matter of the losers, the also-rans, the bottom halfs. These days, the economy being what it is, we’ve probably all spent some time in those categories. And that’s not a nice place to be.
But things get positively dangerous when you start seeing setbacks as somehow shaping your identity.
We’re told that in this world there are winners and there are losers. If you’re not a winner you must therefore be…
Let’s not even say it.
I, for one, am not really sure that our choices in life are limited to “Winner” or “Loser.”
I mean, it’s so binary.
Of course, some people say that’s only natural. Humans are pack animals, and all creatures who travel in packs are way into hierarchies.
To which I say – what about fish? Schools of fish seem like pretty – if you’ll pardon the expression – fluid organizations to me. If top fish and bottom fish aren’t always essential in water, maybe that’s true on land, too.
Others might trot out the old evolutionary meme of “Survival of the fittest,” to enshrine our competitive streak with a mantel of inevitability and a twist of destiny.
Except there’s more to evolution than a cage fight with genetics. Some species, like geese, for example, depend on altruistic behavior for survival. It seems the life expectancy for the geese who fly point is not that good, so the goose leading those splendid flying formations is more of a self-sacrificing goose than a boss goose.
And it could easily wind up as a cooked goose, to boot.
This leads me to think that if there’s any lesson we can draw from Nature regarding the whole winners/losers/rank and ratings thing, it’s that all is not always as it seems.
Not only that, even if it were, it would change sooner or later anyway.
Yes, the only constant in Nature – that I’m aware of – is change.
That’s a good thing to keep in mind whether you’re feeling like a loser or a winner. We’re all oscillating between the two extremes on a regular basis, and regarding many different aspects of our lives.
Maybe we’d be better off if we put more energy into observing the differences, rather than battling for the top.
by Danielle Dresden