Philosophy  •  June 29, 2003

Psychology of Winning

There is something about winning that is simultaneously beautiful and ugly. All my life, I have been fascinated with the idea of winning. I would observe the effect of winning; what it did to me and to others. In my teens and 20s, I struggled with the dilemma of simultaneous joy and pain. There was part of me who did not want to hold anything back, and push myself to the limit like an Olympic athlete, but there was also part of me who realized the social consequences associated with such action. At times, I would entirely renounce the pursuit of winning, and other times, I would embrace it like it is the point of life. As with many things in life, I realized in retrospect that there is nothing inherently good or bad about winning; it is in execution that it can become a matter of value.

I can be competitive with just about anything, but the area of my focus is logical argument. Many people despise it, and hate me for it. Some go as far as to say that logical arguments are rude, uncivilized, and/or socially unacceptable. This stems from the fact that when you lose an argument, it is painful and often is disturbing. Hence, any action that provokes such feelings is deemed rude. Behind this criticism, there is fear of losing, and desire for winning. That is, they are emotionally vested because they want to win, and at the same time they are afraid to lose. So, rather than stirring up these emotions, they would rather not get involved in it at all.

If you were truly indifferent to winning and losing, there would be no need to avoid or criticize it. We all occasionally come across these situations where we are invited to compete in something we have no interest in winning or losing, even if your opponents are very serious about winning. Let’s say you are a graphic designer who designs junk mails. There is a national competition for junk mail designs to which your boss wants you to enter. Suppose you see your job as nothing more than a job, in which case you would be indifferent to the result of the competition. In this scenario, there would be no point in refusing to enter the competition. If it makes your boss happy, why not?

Contempt towards competition is often an expression of their own desire and fear of winning and losing. The stronger their contempt is, the stronger their desire and fear are. If they were truly indifferent, expressing of contempt would be pointless.

Having said that, there is a type of people who insists on arguing even if no one wants to argue. Insisting on anything when it is unwanted is annoying no matter what it is. This annoyance, however, is not to be confused with an expression of contempt for arguments. They are often mixed and intertwined, but have different reasons.

In an argument, I personally take one of two strategies depending on a situation. 1. Try to win to the best of my abilities. Or, 2. Avoid arguing entirely, or stop when I feel it is more beneficial to do so. That is, do my best, or don’t do it at all.

There are those who try deliberately to lose in order to gain in some other way. While I do not condemn such strategy, I am incapable of doing this because it is a form of lying. If I choose to compete, I give my best as a form of respect and sincerity towards my competitors. I find deliberate loss to be disrespectful, unless it is towards a small child to whom a little lie can be a form of entertainment.

Not trying your best is often a form of self-defense, and I see it to be cowardly as well. When you try your best and if you lose, it is painful. Hence, there is a good reason not to try your best. If you do not try your best, you will end up learning nothing about your true self. It is an act of preserving your own ego, an illusion of self.

Again, this does not mean that I would argue with anyone. On the contrary, I carefully choose my opponents. If I see that my opponent is sensitive about losing, and if I sense that he sees no value in the pain of losing, then I simply refuse to engage in any sort of arguments, because there would be nothing to be gained by either party.

These two strategies I employ assume that the arguments are emotionally vested. I do not pretend as though my arguments are free of emotions. Most arguments for me are emotional engagements. You might wonder how I respond to arguments that are not emotional. If I am indifferent to winning or losing, and if I have to be engaged (as in the junk mail competition example above), then I would still try my best. If I don’t have to be engaged, I may choose not to compete, but as long as I am engaged in it, I would try my best, just to be respectful to the other competitors.

An interesting question here is why logical arguments are so emotional. It is because logic can deconstruct your ego which has the illusion of unity. You preserve your social normalcy by creating an image of yourself as a construct with perfect unity. Your true self has no such structural unity. The more you deconstruct this structural unity, the closer you get to the true self. The wider the discrepancy between the constructed self and the true self, the more painful it is to reveal the latter. So, you struggle not to disturb this illusion of unity. In this sense, losing is more important than winning, for the latter only reinforces the illusion, but only by trying your best, could losing ever offer its true benefit.

If you are not careful, this emotion caused by fear can manifest as anger towards your opponents. If this happens, it would be a good time to throw away your light saber, regardless of whether you are winning or losing. Destruction of your ego can be painful and frightening, but if you redirect these feelings into anger, it becomes difficult to observe your true self accurately. You won’t learn much from it, and you’ll confuse yourself further.

The easiest way to keep your unity intact is never to engage in any serious arguments. If you are happy with your own constructed self, and if you have no interest in knowing your true self, it makes sense to avoid any arguments that probe deeply into the very foundation of your existence.

Smooth operators who keep their relationships with others conflict free can make a large number of friends, but are often unable to have deeper, more meaningful friendships. This is because they never give or take any opportunities to reveal their true selves. So, their relationships stay superficial. And, ironically, despite the large number of friends they may have, they still feel lonely. This makes sense, because they don’t really know anyone, including themselves. Ultimately, loneliness comes not from lack of friends, but from not knowing yourself.