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Pundit’s Mailbag — When Winners Are Declared Losers For Winning Too Much

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 7, 2010

Our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — The Ethics Of Abandoning Short Term Profit For Long Term Gain, challenged the thesis that individuals or companies that were declining to raise prices to market levels were behaving more “ethically” than those who made such a decision. Our point of view received an endorsement:

Could not agree more with your response.

Absent contractual (personal or legal) obligations, which you correctly allow for, to simply paint those who chose to “remain steady” with the broad and generous ‘brush’ of integrity is to necessarily imply that those who did not lack the same.

Not fair and patently untrue as a result.

You know the produce business better than I, so your specific points are well taken. In addition, those who chose to remain steady did so for the same profit motive as those who did not. They simply adopted a different strategy to arrive there.

“Different” not “better” and certainly not, by definition, more moral.

— Daniel Barth
General Manager
Super King Markets
Los Angeles, California

An awful lot of the achievements of man on earth are motivated by those who want to win and to maximize winnings. So if we make winning or profiting synonymous with unethical, we will retard human progress.

Indeed, despite all the problems in the world, long-term, our civilization is probably threatened as much by actions that motivate articles like this one from Canada’s National Post than from anything else:

Win a soccer game by more than five points and you lose, Ottawa league says.

In yet another nod to the protection of fledgling self-esteem, an Ottawa children’s soccer league has introduced a rule that says any team that wins a game by more than five points will lose by default.

The Gloucester Dragons Recreational Soccer league’s newly implemented edict is intended to dissuade a runaway game in favour of sportsmanship. The rule replaces its five-point mercy regulation, whereby any points scored beyond a five-point differential would not be registered.

Kevin Cappon said he first heard about the rule on May 20 — right after he had scored his team’s last allowable goal. His team then tossed the ball around for fear of losing the game.

He said if anything, the league’s new rule will coddle sore losers.

“They should be saying anything is possible. If we can get five goals really fast, well, so can the other team,” said Kevin, 17, who has played in the league for five years. “People grow in adversity, they don’t really get worse… I think you’ll see more leadership skills being used if a losing team tries to recuperate than if they never got into that situation at all.”

Kevin’s father, Bruce Cappon, called the rule ludicrous.

“I couldn’t find anywhere in the world, even in a communist country, where that rule is enforced,” he said.

Mr. Cappon said the organization is trying to “reinvent the wheel” by fostering a non-competitive environment. The league has 3,000 children enrolled ranging in age from four to 18 years old.

“Everybody wants a close game, nobody wants blowouts, but we don’t want to go by those farcical rules that they come up with,” he said. “Heaven forbid when these kids get into the real world. They won’t be prepared to deal with the competition out there.”…

Lest the Pundit be accused of not having a heart… we would like to emphasize that Kevin Cappon is not a three-year-old who might cry at a loss — he is 17 years old. There were plenty of young men his age on Omaha Beach fighting the Nazis while liberating France; the blood on the battlefield of Gettysburg was often the blood of 17-year-old boys — and these parents think they are doing their children a favor by changing the rules of the game so that the winners are declared losers.

Now you might ask how, precisely, the coaches are supposed to stop their teams from being as good as they actually are. The article goes on to explain:

According to the league’s new rules, coaches of stronger teams are encouraged to deter runaway games by rotating players out of their usual positions, ensuring players pass the ball around, asking players to kick with the weaker foot, taking players off the field and encouraging players to score from farther away.

How horrible is this. It reminds us of that short story Kurt Vonnegut of Slaughterhouse-Five fame wrote, titled Harrison Bergeron. It was about a society in which the government wanted to equalize everyone, so the strong had to wear weights, the smart had to have headsets blaring noise that distracted them, etc., all to hold down any excellence in any area of human affairs.

Yes, have all the good players play lefty indeed.

The whole argument about self-esteem has it precisely backwards. The argument that at 17-years-old some kid on the team opposite Kevin Cappon will gain self –esteem because he “wins” since Kevin’s scored “too many “ goals is bizarre.

And, truth-be-told, you don’t have to be 17.

Jr. Pundit Primo, aka William, was all of three or four years old when we told him we had to go to the soccer award ceremonies so he could get his award, and he was old enough to know that neither he nor his team had done anything to merit an award. After he watched them give a trophy to every single kid, he treated the award as the meaningless thing it was.

In contrast, when Jr. Pundit Segundo, aka Matthew, wins a “Hustle” Award in basketball, in which he is singled out for actually doing something, the kid insists on sleeping with the medal!

In fact, those who push this self-esteem business have it almost precisely backwards. One doesn’t gain self-esteem because one gets trophies; one gains self-esteem by doing things worthy of winning trophies. And you don’t have to be a very old or particularly brilliant child to recognize when you are being patronized.

The issue, though, goes beyond faulty pedagogy; it goes to a society that is losing its bearing.

It is one thing to help the weak or underperforming, to be kind and give charity to those who need it and to teach those who can learn to help themselves, but society will advance only with excellence, so we need those businesspeople to figure out the strategies that will produce profits and we need those kids to acquire the discipline that training and practicing to be your very best produces.

In a world where terrorists want nothing more than to destroy our civilization, articles like this one must give them great hope. For if we don’t teach our children to win, isn’t it likely that one day we will lose against enemies more focused on victory?

And what will be ethical about allowing that to happen?

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