Dropping the language of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in life

The circumstances of people’s lives influence whether they thrive or fail

Suppose the man who owns the building files for bankruptcy because of an investment too far? Will he be a loser? Photograph: iStock

Suppose the man who owns the building files for bankruptcy because of an investment too far? Will he be a loser? Photograph: iStock

 

“Show me someone without an ego and I’ll show you a loser.” That often quoted statement by – who else? – Donald J Trump, set me thinking about the whole concept of losers in the sometimes vicious game of life.

To whom does it apply? Imagine a building many floors high which garners fabulous rents. See the owner striding out of the building to be chauffeured off to wherever powerful people get chauffeured to. On his way out of the building, he passes a man mopping the floor. This man’s age and education mean he is unlikely to get a job doing anything more financially rewarding, or interesting. The minimum wage job, menial as it is, may soon be done by a robot and the man thrown on to the rubbish heap of the world’s losers.

With little in the way of money or status he has kept going. He may be invisible to almost everybody in his work space, but perhaps he has somebody in his life, in this country or another, to whom he matters.

Maybe the only fancy car, driven by somebody else, that he will occupy will be the hearse that takes him to the same destination life’s “winners” are heading for.

People make choices that fail, but this doesn’t make them losers at the core

Suppose the man who owns the building files for bankruptcy because of an investment too far? Will he be a loser? Six of Donald Trump’s businesses failed and filed for bankruptcy over the years. Is he a loser? No, he is the president of the United States.

Say you are lying in an alley in a stupor because you are addicted to drugs, and nobody (including, I might add, me) wants to see you in their line of vision. You have lost relationships, money, health, respect, freedom. But if we say that you are inherently a loser we are saying that you have no prospect of recovery. Yet, people recover and go on to contribute to their families and to society.

People make choices that fail, but this doesn’t make them losers at the core. Conditions play a huge role in our fortunes too – a favourable or unfavourable market, a good or bad education, family money or family poverty, being in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time.

My grandfather made an awful lot of money out of exporting cattle to Britain. Then Britain began to import from Argentina and my grandfather’s source of income was gone – so instead of taking a train to Dublin to do business he cycled the 20 miles there and back to save on the fare. But he wasn’t a loser – conditions changed and the money stopped.

You know the old line that if you really want something and work hard you are bound to get it? Some of the people who work the hardest and for the longest hours on the planet desperately want to survive and get by but barely manage to do so and can go under. Some of these people are children. Does this make them losers?

No, it makes a lie of the statement that wanting something and working hard for it will inevitably get it for you.

Human dynamics are often emotional and emotion doesn’t lend itself to a nuanced balancing of one thing against another

In social psychology, the “fundamental attribution error” refers to our tendency to see what happens to other people as arising from personal qualities while we discount the influence of the conditions in which they thrive or fail.

An example would be to criticise all people who are unemployed as lacking motivation to work. I have seen this “lack of motivation” argument used against men and women who had worked for decades before redundancy cost them their jobs. This argument contributed to steady reductions in social welfare payments over decades.

Human dynamics are often emotional and emotion doesn’t lend itself to a nuanced balancing of one thing against another.

But when we step out of the heat of the moment we can take a wider view.

And that begins with dropping the language of “winners” and “losers” when we talk about the qualities of human beings.

Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com)

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