I was caught by the title of an article in the recent Newsweek Magazine that came to our house. The catchy title said, “Why Winners Win.” I was hooked! Then my eyes landed on the sub-title: “The new science of triumph in sports, business, and life.” I played sports most of my life, so I know I am competitive. I also know that I have become much less competitive, as I have grown older. Perhaps that is compensation for the fact that it is more difficult to win when you get older. It truly is the case that there usually is someone stronger, faster, and more able than you are. I guess I am old enough to have come to terms with that.
But I am fascinated by the phenomenon of winning. And I was doubly fascinated by the fact that this article again reverted to the world of neuroscience. I seem to be frequently bumping into that multi-disciplinary arena of study. But it is not surprising. We human beings are complex creatures. Almost anything we do, therefore, is a result of a complex set of events going on inside our minds and bodies. Neuroscience is simply the scientific way of trying to understand and explain this complexity.
Of course, some people out there in our world seem to be able to win more regularly than others. It is true in sports and in business. It may well be true in life, but that one about life seems more unclear to me. So I was intrigued how the article would describe things.
Early on in the article the obvious candidate for the winning formula was introduced, namely, testosterone. Testosterone and being macho usually go hand in hand! I always figured that explained my plight. I was always an above-average athlete, but never had that “extra” to be the champion. I always assumed it was the testosterone thing…some, but not enough. But I have now learned, thanks to the Columbia University researchers.
These researchers “found that testosterone is helpful only when regulated by small amounts of another hormone called cortisol.” That was good news for me. Maybe my testosterone level did not always balance the cortisol level. Wow, this competing thing is complicated! But then, the plot became even thicker.
The next thing I learned made me a little sad, but I fear it is true. Some other researchers in Bonn, Germany discovered that “test subjects who receive a given reward for a task enjoy it significantly more if other subjects fail or do worse…” I admit that I am not surprised. I can recall many times in sports when I was on the winning side and I was glad the other guys lost!
So how does this relate to spirituality? It relates to spirituality because spirituality, sports, business, and life all relate to being human. If I am going to be fully human (in my case anyway), I have to find a way to account for all four arenas of life: spirituality, sports, business, and life. I confess that I have tried to be a winner in all four. I know some folks are not involved in all four. But there are probably other arenas that can be added.
As I ponder this, I am feeling my way to some tentative conclusions. In the first place, I am willing to take it for a fact that humans may well be wired to try to win. This may be behind something like “survival of the fittest.” In the second place, I think the real issue may be how one defines “winning.” I know what it is like to win the basketball game: one team scores more points than the other team. But maybe there are other---possibly paradoxical---ways of defining “a win.”
Immediately, I think of love. Let’s assume that I can be competitive in loving. But the kind of loving I have in mind is what the New Testament calls agape, usually translated as “sacrificial love.” This is the kind of love at which Jesus excelled. In fact, many would say there was none better than Jesus. He would have been the supreme “love winner.” And it cost him his life!
There is some interesting logic at work here. That agape love of Jesus winds up having an amazing, global, centuries-old effect. What Super Bowl or World Series’ winner can make the same claim? I think I am beginning to figure it out.
What kind of winner you want to be determines the nature of the competition and how you have to play. If I want to beat you in golf, I have to play the course in fewer strokes than you do. It’s simple math. To make it even and fair, the handicapping system is introduced.
The spiritual game of love is a much different game. Coming out on top is not my goal. Serving you---making you better---is my goal. Ego and self-interest have little role to play. Love comes close to a win-win game. If you win, I feel like I have won. I think I get it…but I am still growing into it. That is my spiritual journey…learning to play the game of love…agape love.