Saturday, February 9, 2008

Just about playing the game

Sportsmanship is an integral part of parenting. We want our kids to play by the rules, both in games and in other aspects of life such as grades, jobs, or the relationships we develop with others.

Have you ever played a game with someone who always had to win? It doesn't matter whether they decide to cheat or they work the whole time at manipulating you into losing. They have to win. Games aren't fun with those types of people anymore.

I grew up as the youngest of nine children. My family was competitive but loving, too. I used to love to play games. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting around the kitchen table with a board in the middle trying to figure out which one of us should throw the dice next. I honestly don't remember winning anything but Candyland before I was 10. When we'd play Poison with the basketball in the back yard, I remember my brothers giving me a spot to hit on the pole or letting me move up to shoot, so it would be fair, but I don't ever remember my family letting me win. Even though I wouldn't win, I would go downstairs to the room my brothers shared and beg them to let me play with them. Over and over, I would ask them to play games or include me in their times of building legos into Starwars ships or football players (Ty Detmer?). At that point in my life, it was never about winning.

Later on in life, I started really caring about winning. It sort of came to a head about a year and a half ago when I was at home with my family at Christmas time. My brother, sister-in-law, husband, and I were sitting at my parents' kitchen table playing a card game. Playing games is still a common pasttime with my family although we're all grown. My brother and I got into a discussion about fairness, and (in my defense, I'd just had my son a little over two months before, and my hormones were still COMPLETELY screwed up) I lost all composure. I sprinted down the stairs and hurled myself onto the bed I was borrowing. My other sister-in-law who'd also just had a baby came in the room wondering what had happened. The story of the game tumbled out, but at that moment, I realized that it really wasn't the game that had opened my flood gates. It was the culmination of the pile up of several months, and the game was a speck on top of the straw on the camel.

This past summer, I was with my family again, and my family invited me to play. I declined and went for a walk. My wonderful brother (the same one I had been playing with at Christmas) came out and told me that he was sorry. I told him that it wasn't him. It was me. I am responsible for my own self. I didn't like the way I was playing, and until I could just enjoy the games for the games whether I won or lost, I wouldn't play. If I had to stoop to trying to make someone else lose in order to win, it wasn't worth it.

That's how I view life now. Some things just aren't worth it. If I have to try to make someone else look bad, so I can get the job, I don't want that job. I have been viewing success as an end result. If I received an A on a paper, I was successful. If I played a song in church beautifully, I was successful. Success in life isn't about the outcome. Success is about what we learn and whether or not we choose to be happy in the process. Life is all about learning and growing. Some of the best lessons are through mistakes. Disappointment comes when we set our hearts on certain outcomes instead of trying to enjoy the moment of working towards something. Just as in games, we should try to play to win. However, sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't. It's just about playing the game.


melissa said...

That's a pretty insightful post. Most people never get to that point in their lives to realize something like that.


Oh, did you get the book? Boomsday, Christopher Buckley. I put the event late enough so that everyone would theoretically have kids in bed. :)

Robert said...

I am a naturally competitive person when it comes to playing actual games. I cannot stand people who lie or cheat to win, though, and when I determine someone is cheating I will not play with them anymore. Beyond that, I tend to find competition enjoyable as long as everyone has a positive attitude and is enjoying the game. As soon as it gets negative, then I'd just as soon be done playing. I have played bridge for hours because I enjoyed the company, and I've quit after half an hour because there was obvious hostility within the group playing. I enjoy winning, but I enjoy the interpersonal communication around a game more.

In life, I am far less competitive. I prefer to leave some "winnings" on the table of life in most cases to maintain a positive relationship. If I feel like I have always gotten the short end of a deal from a relationship - I'm always the one leaving more and I'm rarely if ever getting a return - then I end that relationship. I think life has a give and take, an ebb and flow, that becomes a problem whenever there is no balance. If someone always has the upper hand with me, then I prefer not to deal with that person. If I have to because of business, then I do my best to keep conversations brief and cordial, but I work towards removing their control of the situation as reasonably as I can.

Interesting post.

Julie Pippert said...

What a great post, and even better is you being courageous enough to make the improvement, while even better is the great model that establishes for your own kids.

I can't anticipate all the challenges my kids will face, but I can do my best to provide positive guidance on the ones I know about (such as my blog post today) and keep myself available to them with love and understanding.

Competitiveness might be one.

But the one my daughter and I share is justice.

It really tweaks our wagons when things are---by our perception---unjust. She doesn't distinguish unjust from unfair, and hers is largely about fairness now.

So we work on the journey.

le35 said...

I think at the end of the day, the main goal of parenting is teaching the kids values. Then, they can figure out on their own how to implement them. If I can teach them sportsmanship and enjoyment of learning even during the hard times, then they can figure out what to acutally learn, but they'll be happy with what they're getting, and it will keep other things at bay.