Winners and losers

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 2, 2013 – 12:00am

Illustration by REY RIVERA

It’s a good time to ponder this topic since we just had an election.

It’s great to be a winner. You feel like you are on top of the world. You are, to put it simply, the best there is. In your mind at least, that’s the reason why you won. Everyone loves you. Everyone idolizes you. You have been put on a special pedestal in the world you inhabit.

If you are a big-time winner, it must feel like you are the center of the universe. I think of people like Obama, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan or David Beckham who at one time in their lives are/were the center of the universe, and even when they are not always in the headlines, they are/were easily within striking distance of it. Everything they were involved in was looked at approvingly by a great number of people who adored every little thing they did.

I think it is safe to say that most of us have felt like winners once or even a few times in their lives even in the much smaller universe we inhabit. We could be the golden child in the family, the best in school, popular in our barkada, or maybe as some sort of local hero or champion in our community or church. Or perhaps we are celebrities in the political or social firmament, or in entertainment. Or maybe we are famous because we had done something that caught the attention or admiration of some people, however few they were. It is intoxicating to feel like a champion or a winner.

Remember Mohammad Ali shouting “I am the greatest” after one of his momentous fights? That’s the feeling of a winner. I can remember Manny Pacquiao’s face beaming every time he won a fight as he took part in the motorcades that welcomed him home. Notice how winners in the Oscars, especially for Best Actor and Actress, always prepare memorable lines full of wisdom and wit that aim to make them more endearing to their audience and perhaps more immortally remembered? Winners like to bask in their success.

Once you taste it, you will definitely want more of it. One does not need great observation skills to notice how extremely rare it is for politicians to run for only one term. (Boy, don’t we know it!) An athlete will also always try to maintain his ranking, or if he is really aggressive, will outdo his winning performances every chance he has, wanting to break his own records. Look at Tiger Woods and Serena Williams. They will mostly keep at it until they begin to falter and stumble and notice they can’t perform like they used to. That’s the time to stop. But even when athletes do realize it, not all will accept it and will still continue to keep on believing that the Gods are still smiling down on them.

Where there are winners, there are losers. It’s a status nobody wants to have. It is painful, humiliating and depressing to lose. It is a humbling experience to have your bubble of expectations burst, and realize that you actually did not have the highly vaunted powers and capabilities you had fancied yourself to possess in the first place.

We have all experienced losing. I know I have. It hurts to feel rejection, or to lose to someone especially if you feel your opponent was lesser or lower than you. I have experienced losing in love, arguments and debates, a barangay election, a songwriting contest, a singing contest, a few advertising bids when I was still working in an agency. As a competitive person by nature, it was hard for me to accept losing each time.

But strangely enough, for the same reason I quickly understood that to wallow in self-pity and victimhood (whether real or imagined) made me an even bigger loser. If I remained in that state, or worse if I cultivated a lot of negativity aimed towards myself, or my perceived enemies, or at life in general, I would be a hopeless, incorrigible loser.

I immediately picked up the lesson that I had to accept whatever was thrown at me, and vow to meet it with grace, dignity and unflappable aplomb. If I did that, I knew that nothing was actually lost, or taken from me. I still had my equanimity, my dignity and, who knows, I perhaps may even earn the respect of my competitors.

A healthy dose of sense of humor is really important to have when you lose. If you can laugh and shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s life,” in the middle of the wreckage you are in, you are a step closer to winning an even bigger battle. And that’s the battle against your ego.

One thing I know for sure is that no one remains a winner forever. And so it goes with losing. These states of gain and loss are merely shifting fortunes of men and women in life.

Winners will eventually lose their magic touch, sometimes slowly, or it may be all too quickly. In a snap, some can lose or forget the formula of success they once felt belonged to them as their birthright. There have been individuals, groups, even entire empires that quickly lost their stature and status as they faded into historical oblivion.

Losers also do not have to remain losers. The wheel of life is constantly turning. Sometimes it is very slow but it can be rapid, too. I have always liked the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing. Here’s part of it.

The line it is drawn

The curse it is cast

The slow one now will later be fast

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changing.

Heroes and villains will come and go. And sometimes, history plays its own games and switches their roles or gives them makeovers. President Marcos, the brilliant leader and war hero, fell from his pedestal and was disgraced and condemned as a thief and dictator, perhaps irrevocably. And then there was Ninoy who appeared as a loser to his archenemy Marcos while he was alive, but won big in death.

The contrasts between the lives of Nelson Mandela and his fellow South Afrikaaner, the athlete Oscar Pastorius is astounding. Mandela took almost three decades before he won his dream. But even while he appeared to be a loser serving his time in hard labor, he was in fact a winner in training. During his incarceration, he learned the art of compromise, forgiveness, and how to steel himself to meet the important challenges that would face him someday. Meanwhile, Pastorius, who enjoyed superstar status in the world of sports, lost it in a second when the murder of his girlfriend was pinned on him.

A winner must be humble enough to see his own faults. He must know his limitations and not fall into a sense of infallibility, or a can-do-nothing-wrong attitude. While it is hard to be grounded when you breathe rarified air while sitting on top of the world, you must be tethered to reality even while flying the stratosphere of success.

On the other hand, a loser who has been forced to humility must have enough pride or a sense of self to stay afloat and not be broken in spirit. He must learn the capacity to pull out inner powers within himself that he may never have known he had. And these powers usually make themselves known to you only at the point when you think you have nothing left to cope with the situation.

I have known people who had lost everything only to awaken and realize a sense of complete wholeness even when all they had was a profound sense of their own humanity. And when you ask them to tell their story to you, they always acknowledge losing as a moment of great awakening, as some sort of turning point before they completely bounced back.

My take on all this is that we should never write off losers and we must ever underestimate the power of the comeback. Nor should we ever think that winning is everything and that winners will always be on top in the game of life.

You just have to do your best and play your part with dignity while the wheel is spinning.

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