Volume 54: A Question of Character

Posted on 06/14/2011


Is this winning?

Unless you have been in another country, or deliberately avoiding any and all news sources, you know that the NBA Finals just ended. You should also know that, on our path to the coronation of “King James”, the Dallas Mavericks got in the way. Now, before you stop reading because you think this post is about sports, let me assure you that it’s not. This post is about perspective, and how it can come from the most unassuming sources. So, we were getting ready for work the morning after the Heat loss and my wife asked me about the game. She is what I would characterize as the “typical” female in that she has one sport that she enjoys, but maintains a cursory interest in others because she knows I am a fan. Anyway, she noticed how hateful the fans and media have been towards Lebron James and his infamous “decision”. She then made one of the most powerful statements I’ve heard regarding the Lebron debate. She stated, “It says a lot about a person’s character to root for someone to lose.” WOW! Here I was having text, email, and verbal debates trying to give people perspective about Lebron and, more importantly, our behavior regarding hero-worship and/or demonizing; and my wife unintentionally gave me the topic of this post. I pondered her statement throughout the day, asking myself, “Why do we have to choose between a hero and a villain? And, why do we find delight in the misfortunes of others?” The Lebron debate had taken a new path for me. It was no longer about stats, or NBA history, or revisionist history. It was about perspective. It was no longer a question of the intricacies of basketball. It was A Question of Character.

You Lose, I Win

The revelation that I had was that we have gotten to the point in this society that our “winning” (thanks, Charlie Sheen) no longer has to come as a result of our own personal dedication and hard work. No, we can “win” simply by having the right person lose. It could be that jerk co-worker that finally gets reprimanded for his misdeeds on the job. It could be the politician (or political party) enduring a controversy. Or, it can be a sports star or team failing in their attempt to achieve a goal. How (or why) are our lives personally enhanced by the failings of others? What does that say about our goals? What does that say about our character?

Tearing Down the Joneses

It is human nature to compare. I’m reading a book called Predictably Irrational, and it talks about the economic theory of relativity. In layman’s terms, it suggests that we need a comparison to make most of all of our decisions – from which toothpaste to buy, all the way to which person to marry. We created games and sports as comparisons for how skilled, big, fast, or strong we are. We created degrees to compare how smart we are. However, in our quest to “keep up with the Joneses”, we lost perspective. Previously, keeping up meant making yourself better. For example, I distinctly remember in high school I aced Algebra 2 not because I wanted to get a good grade and raise my GPA. No. I aced that class because I didn’t want the foreign exchange student to think Americans were lazy and dumb. Sill-E, isn’t it? Yet, the byproduct of my comparison was I made myself better. I did get a good grade, and raised my GPA, and used that knowledge to score over 600 on the math portion of the SAT. My keeping up with the Joneses, or Nagasaki’s, made me better. How different it is today. Today, I could just root for her to fail, or find a subject that she was struggling in, to make myself feel better. I don’t need to keep up, or make myself better. I can just hope that you fail so you can be just as mediocre and miserable as me.


I watch the news from time to time, and I try to look for the celebration stories. Celebration stories are those stories that celebrate someone’s achievements or overcoming a personal challenge. As you can guess, those stories are rare. What I find more are stories of people’s personal shortcomings and failures. Whether it’s Spears and Lohan, Gingrich and Weiner, or Lebron and Wade; we, as a culture, seem to be more interested in failure. Why is that? And, more importantly, is that contributing to the decline of our reign as the number one superpower? No longer are we challenging ourselves to be bigger, stronger, smarter, faster, or better than our competition. No longer are we using the cognitive dissonance caused by our weaknesses to turn them into strengths. I learned a lot about myself in that Algebra 2 class. I took the challenge head on and made myself better to meet it. Did I beat her? O

ccasionally. But I learned that recognizing someone’s victory doesn’t mean we’re celebrating our loss. It also doesn’t make us losers just like celebrating the failures of others doesn’t make us winners. It only makes us bitter and complacent. I guess that’s easier than trying.

That’s just my three cents…


“Peep my ver-na-cular cuz I don’t know how to act…”