Winners and Losers

By Tony Downey

What category do you place yourself in — a winner or a loser? Some years ago I took part in training a group of people in a Business Communication and Personal Development Skills Course. My assignment was to deliver a series of talks related to such subjects as motivation, stress and anger management, and conflict resolution. What I did not realize was that instead of training a group who had a reasonably good income and job security, the members of the new course would be comprised of the long-term unemployed.

I will always remember the first day of the course. Many of the class, who were aged between 18 and 50, had either not worked at all since leaving school or had worked in several jobs only to lose them through failure of the business or because their routine clerical jobs had been superseded by computer technology. They all said they wanted to get jobs but were apathetic about how they should go about it. All had attended previous courses and had many interviews, with little or no success. For the majority this had been going on for months, and in some cases for years. This group had one thing in common: they all felt like losers. It was going to be very difficult for them to accept anything I said about motivation.

One of the young girls, a single parent, came to see me after our first meeting. She said she really had nothing to look forward to. She lived in a rented accommodation, her parents lived overseas, her boyfriend had walked out on her and her daughter, and by the time she had paid the rent and bought food she had nothing left to go out and make friends, or even look for jobs. Nothing was worthwhile in her mind — she was just another loser. Trying to talk her out of her apathy, I asked her what she meant by thinking she was a loser? Didn't the fact of having a daughter make her a winner in the eyes of the other people in the class? She said she had never really thought about her situation this way before.

At this stage I wondered, why do we label ourselves and others as winners and losers? Perception and attitudes, I suppose. If this is the case, then how can I get this group to think it through for themselves and change their perception to being winners? I hurried down to the library and very soon found a little book entitled Winners and Losers by Sydney J. Harris. I must admit when I first saw the title I thought it would probably contain a host of comparisons between what the author thought a winner was and what a loser is — the winner most likely being some materialistic character who plays one-upmanship over the loser. However, this was not the case; although the book contained forty comparisons, they all made very good sense to me. Here are a few selections:

When a Winner makes a mistake he says "I was wrong," when a Loser makes a mistake he says "It wasn't my fault."
A Winner learns from his mistakes. A Loser learns not to make mistakes by not trying anything different.
A Loser believes in Fate. A Winner believes that we make our fate by what we do or fail to do.
A Winner stops talking when he has made his point. A Loser goes on until he has blunted his point.
A Winner in the end gives more than he takes. A Loser dies clinging to the illusion that winning means taking more than you give.

I introduced this book at the next class, and everyone was excited to realize that, when they thought about it, there really was another way of looking at things. I quoted a few examples every time we met, and we eventually came up with a course motto: A Winner thinks, a Loser accepts. This motto rather hoisted me by my own petard, as most of my talks afterwards were interrupted by the group saying, "Why should we accept this?" My response was, "Think about it and then tell me if you can accept it, or if not, come up with a better idea!" At last they were thinking for themselves. Perhaps you may be saying to yourself: Of course we have to accept things we are told, particularly by people who know (or think they know) better than we do. But do we? How many times do parents tell children not to do this or that? And when we are not around, what child can resist the temptation of seeing if the thorns on that rose really do prick or if too much water in the glass really does make a mess? Would mankind really have gone to the moon or probed the planets if we had accepted earlier concepts of science and our universe?

I am pleased to tell you that all the participants finished the course and most obtained jobs within a short time. Their self-respect was on a high when we finished, and they had certainly begun to think and not just accept. However, perhaps some of you see that there is a hidden catch in the saying "A Winner thinks, a Loser accepts." As G. de Purucker said in Studies in Occult Philosophy: "You know you can affect your character by your thoughts, your feelings, whether you give way to them or master them, whether you determine to live a life which is grand or one which is the reverse. You affect the whole of your character thereby and thus affect your destiny." So when you think about daily challenges that keep coming up, make sure your thoughts are turned outwards to others, use your intuition, and you will WIN for the right reason!

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2003; copyright © 2003 Theosophical University Press)


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Be sure to choose what you believe and know why you believe it, because if you don't choose your beliefs, you may be certain that some belief, and probably not a very creditable one, will choose you. — Robertson Davies