In the Marine Corps infantry I was told hundreds of times, “it pays to be a winner.” Generally, this was after I was on a team competing with another team in some physical exercise competition, calisthenics, martial arts, physical tactical decision games, what have you. Most times, the statement was followed by some sort of punishment for losers. Doing 100 burpees while the winning team watched. Running the extra mile while the winning team watched. Why was this important?
In the Marine Corps, losing leads to a loss of life in most situations. This loss of life is something we do our best to avoid at all costs. Ironically, every leader knows in the military that in combat, men and women will die. In many cases, the individual party that suffers less loss of life is the winner. The connection between these two factors forces us to build a culture that rewards winners and punishes losers. Today Mickey Mouse was on in my house as I finished up a work deliverable so that I could keep my son somewhat distracted and immobile for a little bit. I hate to put the TV on to distract him, but this is my new normal.
In the episode, two characters were having a five-part competition. The final event of the competition had both individuals (Pluto and another dog(not goofy)) in a tie. This final event would be the determining factor of who won and who lost. I was interested to see how it would turn out since Mickey tends to teach children values alongside knowledge. I looked away from my computer to watch the final event, a race across a pool to a finish line where the winner would be crowned. As both dogs jumped into the pool Pluto took the lead because the other dog began to struggle to stay afloat.
Pluto, being magnanimous in potential victory rushed to the other dog’s aid and pushed him to the end of the pool. Subsequently, the other dog won the race by crossing the finish line first and was crowned the victor. Before he could be awarded his final star and victory, the other dog broke the star in half and handed it to Pluto. Ultimately, Mickey (the judge) declared it a tie and labeled Pluto and the other dog both winners.
I think that part of the lesson my son learned from this show was awesome. I think the other part was awful. The fact that Pluto had the ability to step outside of the competition and help a competitor is a demonstration of humility in potential victory. A trait that too few of us teach our children. The fact that the other dog was not labeled a winner gives my son a false sense of reality about there being a consequence for his actions. Had Pluto ignored his competitor he would have been crowned victorious and would have faced the consequence of guilt from failing to help someone in need. Instead, he decided to help and should have been forced to deal with the consequence of crossing the finish line last in doing so. Losing.
Teaching my son that risking losing the battle to earn the respect of others and his opponents (at limited cost to himself) would have been a better lesson. A lesson in understanding that winning is not everything. Teaching him that in the end, our ability to remain true to our character as a person and our moral compass is of most importance. Reinforcing the fact that Pluto should have been ok with losing because he did not sacrifice his integrity as an individual. Subsequently, this would also teach my son that the world is unfair. A lesson too many children do not learn early enough. There are winners and losers. Most times it does pay to be a winner, sometimes the cost of winning is not worth it.
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.