Monday, January 04, 2016

"Either We Win Or We Learn"

When I was eight-years-old, my favorite professional football team, the Dallas Cowboys, lost Super Bowl V on a last second field goal by Baltimore Colts kicker Jim O'Brien. It crushed me. I cried, then proceeded to watch virtually no football for the next twenty years. I certainly didn't have a favorite team. Today, I'll follow the local football teams, usually in an after-the-fact way by checking the scores the following day and watching highlights if "my team" wins, but my sport is baseball.

Part of what I like about baseball is that even the worst teams will still win 60 games over the course of a season, while even the best will lose 60. I like how a baseball season is about never getting too high or never getting too low, that it can be a grind, that there is always a game tomorrow, week after week, month after month. I like that the best hitters fail to get a hit 70 percent of the time, that only a relatively tiny number of teams actually make it to the playoffs; I like that there is a lot of losing mixed up in the winning. In a way, I think of being a baseball fan as a continuation of the learning journey I set out upon after that emotional Super Bowl loss, and among those lessons is to not allow myself to become too emotionally involved in the games other people play.

We often think of professional sports as being all about winning and losing, and of course, at bottom it is, but when you listen to the athletes talk, especially when they talk about their successes, you hear them say a lot about their losses. They speak of how their failures motivated them to work harder, to learn more, and to get back up and try again.

As Confucius said, "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." Indeed, the success, the winning, is secondary to our journey of learning. It's been said that winning the Super Bowl is hard, but winning it a second time is almost impossible. I think that's because it's particularly hard to learn anything from success: we learn the most from failure. Too often we forget this in education as well. We talk of failure as a bad thing, when, in fact, it's what we're here to do.

Over the weekend I was listening to the radio as I ran errands and a football coach (I'm sorry, I don't know which one) was being interviewed about his team's chances. His reply was golden, "Either we win or we learn."

The only way to lose is to not get up again.

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