My dad taught me a lot about being a loser. Being losers was, in fact, our father-daughter pastime.
Every Sunday during the summer, we’d head out to Lake Jacomo to race sailboats, and normally we lost. Occasionally we’d come in first or second place, but we rarely even knew how we’d placed until hours later, or the next day.
See, dad had a fast boat. It was a long E-Scow, with massive amounts of sail space, that sliced cleanly through the water. It was designed for racing on much bigger bodies of water, but he enjoyed going fast. It was the Lamborghini of the lake.
But the races were scored on a handicapped basis. We’d usually be first or second to cross the finish line, but by the time the calculators had done their work, a smaller boat that finished a half hour behind us could have taken first place. And often, that was the case. See, dad’s boat was also used, with blown-out sails and some rickety equipment. We were like a broken-down body racing against younger, stronger athletes.
It wasn’t unusual for us to have left the lake completely before the smaller boats had completed the course and the placements had been calculated. There was no great roar of excitement for the winner. People just went home.
When we did see the scores, Dad celebrated anyone’s win. Even the crusty, irritable people whose smugness and impatience was apparent. Dad would congratulate them heartily. Sometimes, he even helped our competitors beat us — shouting advice on how to better trim their sails to them — in the middle of a race.
And he had a special place in his heart and extra words of kindness for those who came in last. Except when we were last place — then we just shrugged it off and stopped for treats at the gas station on our way home.
Some people asked, “What’s the point?” when I explained that we were non-competitive competitors. If you asked my dad what the point was, he’d tell you it was to sail the boat around with family and friends.
Our society loves to boo the loser. I asked my husband why you couldn’t just watch a game of baseball or basketball and cheer for every single person when they did a good job. He looked at me like I was from Jupiter. “People don’t watch sports like that.” I guess that’s fine — for sports.
But I have to wonder if it’s healthy for society to boo the losers. They ridicule bad plays, bad-mouth losing coaches, and fans act like somehow their team’s win somehow makes them superior. Right…. “You drank that beer and yelled at the TV better than anyone over there in Denver. Stupid couch losers.”
Sports teams for young people are criticized for celebrating all their players. They claim these kids aren’t being prepared for real life. But maybe the adults need to get in on that lesson of celebrating everyone.
The national pastime of relishing watching others lose sets society up for failure. Aren’t we humans all on the same team? Jobs, education, politics — if one person is “winning in life” at the expense of others’ losses, is there any dignity in celebrating?
Life is not a sport, and we’re all on Team Human. And guess what: Even the losers are valuable players on the team.
Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org