“I can only say this: My whole life has been about winning.
My whole life.
My life has been about victories. I’ve won a lot. I win a lot. I win – when I do something, I win. And even in sports, I always won. I was always a good athlete. And I always won. In golf, I’ve won many club championships. Many, many club championships. And I have people that can play golf great, but they can’t win under pressure.
So I’ve always won.”
“Donald Trump cannot possibly understand [Geneva] because he has neither the experience, the expertise or the moral compass to grasp it,” Geneva is “a fundamental moral and tactical construct that serves as a foundation for the law of armed conflict, because all wars, including the global war on terror, come to an end.
We as a community of nations need to engage with one another and not be separated by horrible, immoral treatment of one side over another.”
air force reserve colonel and an interrogations expert
Well. I almost called this “whatever serves your purpose.” It seems like every day we talk about winning and, yet, we don’t really spend a shitload of time talking about how we will go about winning.
Yeah. There are some basic human driven rules which 99% of people have imprinted on their attitudes & beliefs that affect their behavior & conduct, but, beyond that, the way you play the game can be dictated by who you are, where you live, who you are playing against and a variety of emotional <and Maslow> triggers.
Now. Today, in discussing conduct, I am not talking about what you say or being ‘political correct’ <which may be the most bastardized discussed concept in this particular point in history> but rather I am speaking of conduct as things like “well, if they chop off heads and we do not doesn’t that give them an edge … so …” … or … “if they are breaking the rules maybe we should relook at the rules <or how we play despite the rules>.”
Those kind of things.
Now. While Trump is a horrible little man ethically <amoral in fact>, he is bringing to the forefront a topic which should be discussed at a national level all the way down to the kitchen table level. This is a discussion about who we are as a country and the identity of America exceptionalism.
I say that because how you play the game matters <especially with regard to character>.
To be clear. Outcomes do matter, but inevitably you get judged or measured on both the outcome AND how you attained that outcome. With Trump blustering about ‘winning’ — maybe we have lost sight of that.
So let’s discuss the ‘how we play’ part. And, yes, this is a discussion because it is not as simple as playing by the rules versus cheating — surprisingly there is a lot of room in-between those lines.
“When people cheat in any arena, they diminish themselves – they threaten their own self-esteem and their relationships with others by undermining the trust they have in their ability to succeed and in their ability to be true.”
I will begin in a less than obvious place … truth & lies <and bullshit>.
Yale philosopher Harry Frankfurt outlined in “On Bullsh*t” that there is a difference between BS-ers and liars:
Liars respect the truth, because they must know what it is in order to effectively conceal it. BS-ers are different, in that “truth” is simply not a useful category to them. Any belief is “true” if it serves, if it is convenient. BS-ers have no coherent theory of evidence or of inference, have no need for such things, are contemptuous of reason. In this sense, they are much more corrupting of discourse than liars.
In other words, in order to win, the “truth”, to a bullshitter, will become whatever serves the purpose. I believe this also bleeds into “rules” <which are a version of truths>. I brought that up because I stated upfront almost everyone of us inevitably gets judged by how we got the win, not just the win and of itself. Therefore, I would suggest while outcomes/wins matter we should understand that how you play the game either diminishes you or increases you as a person.
Yes. In today’s world we actually get judged on both aspects … not just one or the other. This leads me to point out that we then get trapped in a personal tug of war — a ‘win at any cost’ attitude is the ultimate reflection of a “respect is about winning” attitude where there is such an emphasis on ‘the win’ we get pulled one way — away from always playing the game “right” and lets the ‘chips fall as they may’.
This is our wretched tug of war.
Winning is absolutely good, but the true essence of sportsmanship is something more than merely getting the most points on the board.
Getting good grades is important but not if it requires cheating.
Getting a promotion is good but not if you do so at the expense of another person.
This is hard stuff. But, if it helps, remember:
How many people do you respect that whine their way to victory?
How many people do you truly respect who has cut corners or ‘won on some technicality’?
I would suggest the notion that ‘winning is the highest value’ runs counter to most usual definitions of heroism, decency and good character. Think about:
Atticus Finch is the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird even though he loses.
Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero but his true victory, while living, was in the attempt.
Ned Stark in Game of Thrones is a hero even though he gets his head chopped off.
Even in business winning isn’t everything. Integrity matters. Integrity matters in business because every sane business leader knows you cannot win every time and your employees need to be able to seize upon ‘something’ to get up and go after the next “what’s next.”
Think about this in a comparison way, while Trump defends his any-means-necessary approach to winning & making as much money as he can <as if that is the only meaningful measure of business greatness>, I could point out many business people who are far richer than Trump who have played the game within the rules with integrity & dignity.
But while I would love to continue to point out the hollowness of The Donald this is, more importantly, about America.
I would argue that in order to have a better America, and a better world, that thinking about ‘how we play the game’ very quickly becomes a metaphorical and reality ethical exercise.
Uhm. As I typed that I made a note to google ethical game theory:
An ethical game is usually not the kind of game that lets us replay a dichotomy of good and evil and, in worst case, denies us to judge between right and wrong. An ethical game design takes the player seriously as an individual with an ethical reasoning developed appropriate to their age, leaving it up to them to make a decision.
For this reason, an ethical game is also in no way a game that treats its players as »moral infants«. It presents the player with ethical challenges just as it poses motoric, exploratory, strategic or logical challenges. Purely abstract game mechanics can’t create an ethical aspect. Ethical challenges can only be generated through portraying them in the game world (and particularly through the story) – and through the medial interaction of the player with it.
Conversely, however, an ethical challenge can create game mechanics, which are never abstract, but result from the conflict in the player’s mind as a very specific challenge in the game world.
Well. When I read that I immediately thought it paralleled what I believe is what we everyday schmucks do, and face, every frickin’ day. The game of life, and business, constantly adjusts to the skill of the players involved. And as reality adjusts those playing get better and better. And, yet, the constant adjusting also demands the players to improve their skills. That demands work. I say that because, uh oh, that is where “rules” truly get challenged.
Work. Yikes. Rather than put in the work to improve the skills to win … uhm … some players ‘do whatever it takes’ or use ‘whatever serves the purpose’ to win. In other words they ‘park’ ethical reasoning somewhere and focus solely on ‘the win.’
This is America in a nutshell. While Life is lived and challenges are met some players’ ethics get nurtured while other players shelve ethical growth so as not … well … not lose. It is here that I would point out this is exactly what Trump is advocating: not losing’ rather than ‘winning.’
Think about it.
Not losing, as an objective, basically makes winning a morally empty principle. The win itself is the glory … and we spend little focus on how you played the game <because the glory resides in the outcome>.
Anyone in today’s world, in the daily & weekly grind focusing on all the challenges facing us and mentally taking each obstacle & challenge and, in addition, permitting each to take on a life of its own … could quite easily begin to think everything was going in the wrong direction … in other words … we were losing <and the wins are difficult to see>.
And that mental ‘loser’ hole gets a little deeper if you believe you have been working hard and ‘playing the game hard’ and doing all the right things the right way. And in that moment … in that hole … in that moment in which you are tired of working so hard and not seeing any clear cut victories, you start edging in to “so what will it take for me/us to finally win” <and get out of his loser hole>.
Uh oh. The slippery slope of ‘how you play the game matters’ looms in front of you.
Let me be absolutely clear on this. It is hard, even for the most principled person, to not think about stepping on this slope. Especially when you have someone like Trump shining a spotlight on your thoughts with regard to the ‘loser hole’ and offering a “let’s start winning” again message <with no rules on how to go about getting the win>.
Anyway. Here is what I think.
Trump has seized a moment and offered a ride on a fairly attractive slippery slope. For years, in our culture, America <society> has been in conflict with regard to winning.
Winning is everything versus everyone is a winner.
Conflict 1: Winners get demonized by their win at any cost attitude <and celebrated to the same time>.
Conflict 2: Participants get demonized by their inability to win <and yet celebrated by the victory in the attempt>.
You cannot, well, win.
This conflict is exacerbated by generational conflict. Conceptually the former <winning is everything> is owned by the older generations and the latter <everyone who participates in the game wins> is owned by the younger generations.
The old see their version of winning being marginalized and at exactly the same time they see overall larger country and economic results lagging <or in their eyes … “the country is going the way of the loser shithole”>. Therefore, to those people, anyone who dares reject the rules of their game, especially if they do not win, are double losers because they were not smart enough to “do anything it takes to win because winning is everything” we need to get out of this frickin’ loser shithole we are in.
This is where someone like Trump can look attractive to some people. It is like hiring a new coach who looks like he is someone prepared to defy conventions – this creates some exhilaration in the fan base.
“fuck yeah … it’s about time.”
It signals the arrival of a maverick outsider who is not just going to shake things up, but is prepared to destroy to create.
That sounds good.
Well. It is good as long as it is within the rules of the game and by ‘rules’ I mean the true construct of playing the game <Geneva Convention offers specific rules and, of course, there is something called the Constitution and things called ‘laws’ and every sport organization has codes, rules and penalties> as well as the integrity of playing the game.
I admit. I am a ‘play by the rules guy.’And, I admit, Trump’s attitude irks me as a business guy. Here is what I know from a business guy perspective <and I believe it is relevant to America in general>.
Give me the construct, give me the box to play within, and I can be creative enough WITHIN the box to beat anyone. I wrote this in 2015:
I would suggest that the highest quality freedom <in and of anything>, the most satisfying freedom, is not found without fences but within fences.
This may sound odd <especially to someone like Trump> but true creativity, innovation and disruption is found within the box and not out of the box. Out of the box is most often impractical, not realistic long term and ultimately pales when placed next to ethical principles.
I would also note that winning within the box is maybe the most satisfying feeling in the world.
In the end.
How you win matters. And changing the rules simply to ‘win’ loses sight of what is really important – not the win itself but the principled effort you took to gain the win.
And if that doesn’t convince you, remember, rules represent:
“a fundamental moral and tactical construct that serves as a foundation for the law of conflict, because all conflict comes to an end. <and you have to live with yourself and what you have done>“