How You Play the Game

Submitted by: Michael Spindell, guest blogger


“For when the One Great Scorer comes

To mark against your name,

He writes – not that you won or lost –

But how you played the Game.”

by Grantland Rice

How many of us grew up with the paraphrase of these words ringing in our ears as we participated in all of the competitions that humans partake in. These sentiments represented the epitome of humans engaging in fair contests, the object of which was defining dominance in a particular field and/or activity. We were all supposed to be “fair”, “play by the rules”, honor our opponents and most of all treat them with respect. Much of this was first defined in Western Culture by the Code of Chivalry which not only defined how men hacked each other to death on the battlefield, but also how they were to treat the “fairer” (weaker) sex.  As the merchant class rose and nobility declined, Chivalry was subsumed in Western Culture by the notion of “fair play”. That all of these concepts have been but hypocritical touchstones meant to add the veneer of human nobility, to human competition, is rarely admitted by those who promote competition for financial and/or political gain.

Thoughts of this came to me as I watched the Olympics this year, listening to the portentous palaver of the announcers, discussing the contests and the purported values behind them. Yes I felt tears of patriotic pride as Gabby Douglas won the gymnastics Gold Medal, but I also saw the pain on the face of Viktoria Komova, who “only” won the Silver Medal. Implicit was that the Russian gymnast had failed in her quest and that she would forever be marked by this failure. This is the hypocritical dichotomy that is pursued in all avenues of competitive human endeavor when reported upon by the media.

Humanity reached the top of the “food chain” by defeating the competition over eons of strife with other fierce predators. While there are still valid arguments on each side of the question as to how human society developed, whether in a spirit of cooperation, or as a rigid imposition of the will of the “leader”, we cannot question that we attained our status because of our predatory talents. Once the “order” of society was imposed humanity began to learn to sublimate battles to the death for proof of supremacy, into “contests” of talent. We learned to sort out our “hierarchy” through these contests and indeed they have developed into a wide range of competitions that most of us use to determine our places in the world. This is not a controversial idea, but even so I would like to take a step back from it and look at the obvious background of human competition that is missed as we “crown” our champions and pity those who could not measure up. The Olympic Movement is a very problematic one. I could go into its mixed history of bigotry, commercialism, deception and tragedy, but that is perhaps for another time.

What I want to explore is the short shrift given by the media to the incredible individual efforts made by so many people who have dedicated their lives to attaining the worldwide stage that the Olympics represent and yet have fallen short of being able to participate, much less attain medals. Since attaining its worldwide popularity the Olympics has bred the spirit of competition in various fields in all corners of the world. For events like gymnastics, or swimming, to even begin to think of getting to the Olympics requires a dedication in early childhood to endless hours of practice and competition on all levels. This is actually true of success in all sports and as the dedicated child grows the competition begins to “weed” out those who lack the talents and/or dedication to their chosen competitive field.

An eight year old that has beaten all those in her county at swim meets finds herself finishing last in a Statewide competition. She might shrug off that defeat and redouble her training efforts, possibly increasing her talents to the point that by High School she has become competitive Statewide, or she may simply adjust to the possibility that the “Olympic Dream” is not possible for her and go on to pursue other avenues towards her personal vision of success. Is only being the best swimmer in ones’ county a failure?

No one would have ever, at any stage of my life, have confused me with being an athlete. Yet I spent much of my childhood participating in all kinds of sports, though never on an organized basis. I have my memories of triumphs and my memories of defeats. I spent hours in solitary practice sessions learning to throw and field a ball off a brick wall. My place in the pecking order was determined in “pick-up” ball games, since I was always chosen near to last. As much as I desired to be considered “good” among my peers, I came to realize that for me being considered “fair” was a triumph. What of those I played with who were the “Captains” choosing, or the first choices? Some went on I suppose to play organized baseball in High School but none ever made it in college sports, or went on to play professionally. This is as it is for most people who engage in competition on all levels. It is but a special few that rise to the point where they can represent their nation on the world stage.

The question remaining in my mind, as these games draw to their conclusion, is whether those “losers” feel satisfaction in the fact that even though they’ve achieved no medals, their lifetime of effort was worth it? Do we really live in a world where it only matters “how you played the game”, or is it that only “winning” that counts?  When you start so young to dedicate yourself to the achievement of success in sport does “failing” leave you with emptiness and recriminations?

Aside from sports our particular American culture is one that worships perceived “success”. This success can range from tangible achievements in given fields, the amassing of great wealth, political office, academic recognition and/or simply being born into a notable family. With the advent of the mass media we see that even appearing briefly on television can turn someone of little accomplishment into a “celebrity”. Jonathan Turley, the creator of this blog is a legitimate “celebrity”. He appears regularly on TV, is renowned for his championing of the Constitution via both the courts and in the press. To all of us who sojourn here, he is well-deservedly famous and a figure of respect for all that he has accomplished. Yet with it all, Professor Turley is nowhere near as famous a celebrity as the “Octomom”, Paris Hilton, or the Kardashian family. With respect to the Kardashian’s, remember it was their patriarch, the lawyer Robert Kardashian, who put them into a position to achieve fame by being O.J. Simpson’s original attorney in the murder case. In the Celebrity Fame Game, all that our Professor has going for him is defending a family made famous by being polygamous on a reality show. The quite tangible accomplishments of his career are well recognized by his peers, his students and his followers, yet it is doubtful that he will ever be offered his own “reality” show, or even discussed on “Entertainment Tonight”.

At my advanced age, I can truthfully say that I look back on my life so far as a successful one. In my own particular terms I’ve played the game well, despite lack of wealth, celebrity and/or outside recognition of achievement. Perhaps though I was never driven, or drove myself to achieve anything more than a woman to love and the fulfillment of children resulting from that love. To be perfectly honest I’ve always had an arrogance about myself to the extent that I’ve always liked and believed in me, so I’ve never really cared what other people thought of me. I would hope that most people would feel that way about themselves, but my training and my career have shown that not to be the case. When I see a sixteen year old singer in front of millions of people on “American Idol” saying that winning that contest is the most important thing in their life, I believe that singer and I grieve for that singer. I understand now that outward trappings of success often mask inner pangs of longing that will never find solace, or peace.

This is then my tribute to all of those whose losses the mass media culture decries as failure. In my opinion it is “how you play the game”, since in the end as mortal beings there is little comfort in the immortality of records, money or other achievements. Perhaps it is that belief though that has ensured my lack of outward fame, wealth and celebrity. If only I tried harder, dedicated myself more and refused to accept losing I could have been a contender. Since I’ve already admitted my arrogance in not caring about your judgment of me, perhaps you might give your own judgment of yourself, or whether you think playing the game well, is just as good as winning.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

91 thoughts on “How You Play the Game”

  1. Just came back.

    “In the study of those imprisoned for violent acts, researchers have observed exactly this phenomenon, a deficit in their ability to imagine realistic consequences of various acts, including violent acts.”

    Yes indeedy.
    When you lack something it is not easy to see that lack.
    But you sure as hell can experience the consequences.

    Does it teach you? Sometimes.

  2. @Dredd: The reality, according to [my own flawed research and my own discourse with myself] is that violence is learned behavior.

    That is ludicrous. Put just about any two animals in a cage, provide them only enough food for one, and watch them engage in violence over who gets to eat.

    The last brain part to evolve in humans is the frontal cortex that is the seat of rationality, including our projections and visualizations of the future. We know this by studying people that have had their frontal cortex damaged by disease or accident.

    What evolved first, and exists in our ape cousins with much less frontal cortex in a form much like our own, is an emotion-based processing system capable of sorting out conflicting emotions quickly, but evolved for survival in a brutal and lawless world of predators, aggression, and achieving one’s desires by force.

    Those emotions are not learned, if anything we must learn to suppress them. The emotions of anger, jealousy and blind rage that lead to violent attack (or defense) all exist to protect you. In the brutal and lawless world, these emotions pay off in terms of survival and the reproduction of one’s genes.

    Also, toddlers engage in violence and aggression; very few parents teach their kid to push another kid over or hit another kid to get their way, they engage in that behavior without ever having seen it.

    Violence is not learned at all, physical coercion and physical punishment are the natural currency of the wild world from whence we came, and we all do indeed still feel those urges to engage physically when words fail.

    However, modern humans now have a well developed frontal cortex that can “see” the future, and although that does not eliminate our urges, or even suppress them, what it can do is show the emotional mind scenes of what logically transpires next, the consequences of indulging in violence. It is the emotions those consequences evoke (fear, dislike, remorse, despair) that can outweigh the emotions of the moment.

    In other words, the rational mind convinces the emotional mind to suppress itself by using conflicting emotions; which the emotional mind is good at sorting out.

    In the study of those imprisoned for violent acts, researchers have observed exactly this phenomenon, a deficit in their ability to imagine realistic consequences of various acts, including violent acts.

    Violence is not learned. Neither is “how we play the game,” for the most part, our sense of “fair play” (within our tribe) is also observable in primates, and they will also throw away profit they could have had in order to punish primate partners they think are being unfair (just as humans do). Which means the “fair play” judgmental mechanism and the urge to punish cheating or greediness or selfishness was probably in our common ancestor, and has always been with our species.

    Those exact urges are what we use as a society to determine how the “game” should be played, to determine if an individual has played the game “well” or “badly.” Did they cheat? Were they greedy? Were they selfish? Were they fair?

  3. Malisha,

    Never tried it. Failed at free dance at 48. So chose other ways.
    But qi gong is nice. No uniforms, no grace necessary, simple non-rythmic movements. No challenging transverse movements for the balance and elderly body to attain.

    Only the ability to feel your stomach falling onto the floor. Took me 3 weeks,and another said enviously “it took me 6 months”. That mystery remains for you to experience. Many such things with qi gong can be described as waves through the body. That released in an arroyo by a sudden shower high in the terrain above.
    Ocean waves are completely different, but I leave that for another time.

    Definitely recommend it. Will ring today to see when fall program starts. Given at nominal charge by the Heart-lung charity here.

  4. Mike S. wrote about myths a while back, so I am reminded of one of the myths of “human nature”, which is that human nature is fundamentally violent under the covers.

    I have also read somewhere that the Olympics are one attempt for nations to neutralize that violent nature by way of playing fair together rather than shooting it out, so to speak.

    There are some indications that this notion of a violent human nature is a myth:

    The concept that humanity has a violent and evil core is widespread; it is one of the oldest and most resilient myths about human nature. From historical and philosophical beliefs to current popular and scientific beliefs, the view that a savage and aggressive beast is a central part of our nature permeates public and academic perceptions. Given this view, it is a common assumption that if you strip away the veneer of civilization, the restraints of society and culture, you reveal the primeval state of humanity characterized by aggression and violence.

    While there are many reasons for the resilience of this myth, the most powerful one is the simple fact that humans today can and do engage in extreme levels of violence and aggression.

    (Diagnosing The Dogs of War). It has even been said that violence is in our genes, which is another myth:

    “the genetic argument allows us the luxury of ignoring past and present historical and social factors. In the words of Louis Menand who wrote in the New Yorker very astutely:

    “It’s all in the genes”: an explanation for the way things are that does not threaten the way things are. Why should someone feel unhappy or engage in antisocial behavior when that person is living in the freest and most prosperous nation on Earth? It can’t be the system! There must be a flaw in the wiring somewhere.”

    … which is a good way to put it. So the genetic argument is simply a cop-out that allows us to ignore the social and economic and political factors that in fact underlie many troublesome behaviors”

    (The “It’s In Your Genes” Myth). The reality, according to this research and discourse, is that violence is learned behavior.

    So is “how we play the game”.

    1. And sports are an important pedagogic system, teaching socialization, at a critical age in childrens’ lives.

      And, besides the enjoyment/motivation which sports provide to adult “players”, there is the reinforcement of socialing effects feven for adults.

      Pehhaps I should take up that invitation to play badminton.
      But one backstop basketball, susper-senior league, would provide a wider apectrum of contacts and a slower pace for my heart……

      Let’s see if I can take my walk today. Got to get in form. Maybe should see if they have a “pickup games” place for basketball seniors.

  5. Malisha,

    I quoted them once and got corrected by another commenter. How did he know that his source was better than mine. lawyers!

    “Strive on.” plus a bit more. Help, those who know.

    Am currrently reading page 35 of Samsung S 3 manual. How people think and describe things. an eternal subject.

  6. bettykath, You just described my neighborhood in Terryville, Ct., right down to kick the can! I had an older mentor for those pickup games. He was a local sports hero named Chuck Manarel. He looked out for me. My first real experience w/ death was when Chuck got killed in Viet Nam.

  7. Idealist, all I could find on the web regarding Buddha’s last words was this:

    “The discipline which I have imparted to you will lead you when I am gone. Practice to attain the goal of enlightenment and awakening.”


    All compounded things are subject to decay. Strive with diligence!


    Anan, Anan, be a light unto yourself.


    Well now, bhikkhus, my counsel is: experience is disappointing, [it is] through vigilance [that] you succeed.


    I know of no other single thing of such power
    to cause the arising of wholesome states,
    if not yet arisen,
    or to cause the waning of unwholesome states,
    if already arisen,
    as appamada, “care.”

    There seem to be others. Which ones were you referring to?

  8. Last and then to bed.
    Thanks Raff. Arpaio is just the kind of guy I like to hate. He even looks evil. And a good hate was had by all. 1984, one day closer.

  9. OT OT

    thinking of John D. and now the red necks vs the darkies. (quaint language we have)

    When you are at the bottom and starving, you don’t need any competition for the bottom rung up.

  10. OT OT OT

    I need no more attention.
    But need to test the moderation barrier I encountered at the algonquin. thus the crosspost.

    12 idealist707
    1, August 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm
    OT OT OT

    read this OT notice and translate for me. Incomprehensible.

    “Send us your robocalls!

    We know you hate robocalls (those pre-recorded voice messages, often for political campaigns, that clog your voicemail) – you write us emails every day telling us so. Let’s expose them together. — You can email us voicemails of your #robocall:uuuuuuuu Or, upload your #robocall to SoundCloud. Or, tag it #robocall on Tumblr. — You’ll need a voice memo app on your phone so that you can record the message (left on a landline voicemail), or you can forward the robocall by emailing it to us directly from your phone. — Questions and thoughts? Email usuuuuuuurl We’ll make supercuts with the best of your robocalls in coming weeks.”

    When does the next pathological government edict read like that?

    Heaven help us. Technology won’t.
    Do you feel persecuted by technology? Sometimes? I love tech, even biology tech, etc. But not our uses of it.

    I am contemplating purchase of a smartphone. The 15 year old one ericsson K750i, I inherited from my Kerstin has it all except zoom screen and touch screen. Even optical zoom. It won’t talk to me but I can swear at it. So why buy? Being in touch with the times. Certainly not competing with my age group. Of course I love reading 164 page instruction manuals on the web. The army taught me that.

    Is media increasing the noise coefficient and driving us in the consumer herd to an unkind fate? Waiting for the boot out of the comfy hotel of society? Here comes Ryan with his health inspectors.

    Think that’s bad, try this. A re-post. Social darwinism Ryan style. A hundred and thirty years backwards in time.

  11. “Of course, only some of us experience the groove. And what the hell is that worth. Just a warm feeling and how long does that last.

    A rush to self-denigrate before others do it first.

    I had written many sentences, but a push of a button cancelled it all.

    Perhaps best so.

    Good advice you give, and good progress is made.
    But when you think it is going good, and you are rising, then the cold shower comes. But I am irrepressible, as some regretted to find in grammar school.

    Let us remember Buddhas final words.

    And mine for now. Let silence spread its balm over the noise of bad ideas.

    Lacking better I do the mystic act. Smile. Self-irony tastes good.

  12. @Idealist: Life should be built on positive reinforcement, not just retention and potentiation of the negative.

    I do not disagree; in my philosophy that is about managing your time and effort to get to the next pinnacle moment. I do something I excel at so the triumphant moments are more frequent; I encourage those I love to do the same, with emotional support and financial support if it would remove a barrier to success.

    Of course, only some of us experience the groove. And what the hell is that worth. Just a warm feeling and how long does that last.

    Feelings are temporary, life is temporary, the world is temporary. My entire consciousness and being are temporary, and the same is true of everyone that I have ever shared the planet with. If permanence is the only measure of worth, then nothing is worth anything, absolutely everything is empty and devoid of meaning.

    And yet, I have no urge to end my existence, or end my participation in life. I dread the thought of my friends or family members dying. Clearly I must see enormous value in all of these temporary things. For that reason, I reject the idea that permanence is a necessary component of value, I reject the idea that only an infinite existence can be worth living, and I embrace the idea that life is worth living even if it is finite, that warm feelings are valuable even if they pass, that love is worth having even if it is destined to end.

    Feelings are everything, in my opinion. Our intellect and intelligence are mere tools that exist to serve the emotional self. The finite nature of my life no longer bothers me at all. I feel I have made the world a better place by being here, I have helped others in need, protected those that were threatened, punished criminals, added to the knowledge of the world, entertained my friends and family, and I have helped others to achieve their own dreams of success.

    I probably have no sage advice on getting over losses or failures. For me, at least, the key was to investigate why I thought the win was so important in the first place, and to understand my own feelings about what failing meant about me and my self-image. That might be a place to start.

  13. “I really do think the losing moments are forgettable and can be put behind us” (Tony C.)

    As a musician who, early on before the career was built, had to face the ordeal of auditions, believe you me, one better be able to put one’s losses away very quickly and forge ahead with confidence.

  14. “Someone Sounding Suspiciously Similar (to) Slarti


    If you’re going to play the sock puppet game, you’ve got to change your avatar…”

    But then you won’t know it’s me 😉 … besides, too much work

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