If you win, does someone have to lose?

A recent discussion about “winning” questioned whether your victory means someone else must lose.    A reader said that in his definition it did.  “The opponent doesn’t necessarily have to suffer, but for one side to win, there has to be conflict or a contest and the “winner” has to prevail. Win. Win/Submit”  He then quoted several dictionary definitions of winning, which mostly reinforced his position.

My response (modified):  Again, you are looking only at win-loss scenarios, or viewing life only through that lens.   The concept of “win-win” is a very real one.  A good negotiation has no loser.  Neither does an ethical seduction, a good game of Frisbee, or any number of other things in life.   Even “losing” is winning if the intention is to learn.   I “win” if I spar with someone better than me and they show me the holes in my defense, so that I can improve.   We have a huge amount of latitude in deciding what things mean to us.  Similarly, people can “win” an argument with a loved one, and destroy the relationship in the process: losing.  

Is a team climbing a mountain victorious if they summit? Do they “win”?  Who loses?   Most games have clear-cut “winners” and “losers” because that makes it easy to keep track of the results, and beyond question there are isolated scenarios in life that are “zero sum” games.  But is that the nature of life?  It certainly doesn’t have to be (not all the time, anyway).  I would ask you to look at that, and see.”


This is one of the reasons that Sales and Marketing are often thought unethical activities.  For the salesman to “win” the customer must “lose”.   There is no question that some people live their lives in this fashion.  But if you are providing a genuine service, one NEEDED by the customer, you both win: they provide you with money which is worth LESS to them than the product or service for which they exchange it.  The product or service is worth LESS to you than the money you receive in exchange.   BOTH win.

Some of this is just a matter of perspective.   Other applications are a matter of specific strategies and tactics for action. And of course, admittedly, there are scenarios where it would be very difficult not to see that one side loses. Others where it is hard to see how anyone wins at all (the “Pyrrhic victory”).  This is an arena that would stand far greater thought.

In the “Five Fold Path”, the finding of allies, tribe, who sees life your way is one step. But so is the creation of plans of action that respect your opponents.   If you believe, for instance, that Universal Health Care is the most efficient and effective way to provide health services to a nation, and your opponents are opposed to UHC, on the surface only one can win.

But if you are correct, and they are mistaken, you may really be asking the question: how can I best protect myself and my family?     If the political opponent is incorrect about UHC, and you “win” at the election, and down the road they learn that they had been misinformed, and were mistaken about its effects, results, and costs, the clearing away of that illusion SHOULD constitute a “win” for both of you: the surface game was an election, but winning the election was not the real goal.  It was a means to an end. The end might have actually been to minimize pain and maximize pleasure by gaining the most efficient and effective care for one’s family.   Of course, in some cases, the goal was simply to keep as much money in your own pocket as possible, and ANY providing of services to others is a violation.

Let’s say that you still wish to “win” the election, knowing that there are people who will not define your “victory” as anything other than their “loss” even if it IS more efficient and effective.

I can suggest a tactic to remain as ethical as possible.  First, simply be polite, considerate, and see their humanity.  No matter what they say, they are trying to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain. They see keeping the maximum amount of their money in their pocket as a means to this end.  Perhaps they believe that an expanded government in THIS arena will lead to decreased freedoms down the road.

This is not a crazy notion.  It is one of the core debates within any culture: who do we give power to, and why?  Under what circumstances? And how to we maintain limits?   Nothing nuts about this conversation.  Governments are no more ethical than individuals, and individuals will take advantage if you give them an opportunity. The larger the government, the more “basic” you can expect its drives and actions to be.  Leave a pork chop on the table, and the dog WILL grab it, unless very well trained indeed.  This is not evil. It is just the nature of dogs.

So be polite, considerate.  Keep it in mind that you might be wrong. But also know that ALL human groups create organizations to make decisions.  If they don’t, they stagnate, fragment, or get wiped out by any group that CAN organize.  Not pretty.  But always remember that your “opponents” are simply trying to live with minimum pain, and try to communicate with them based upon THEIR interpretation of how to do this, not yours.  They don’t care what you think. They care what they FEEL.  Information has no meaning unless it changes feelings or guides actions.

So at every step, seek the Win-Win.  To go deeper into the question: “what do we really want?” and listen to what they are saying, trying to find a way to help them get what they want…which is to hurt less and enjoy life more.

And ultimately?   Remember the “Core Transformation” idea?   I can defend the notion that, at the core of it, all any human being has ever wanted is connection to the Divine, perhaps defined as that sense of peace and unity we felt in the womb.  To move beyond the dualities to a sense of absolute being.   That can be defended.   But it can also be defended that Dualistic thinking protects us: tribalism is a survival value…until it isn’t.  One tiger hiding in the forest will have more impact than a million beautiful flowers.  It makes SENSE to beware, to be afraid…until that fear becomes its own destructive force, and we must embrace love.

Until the tiger enters the woods, at which point we must pick up the spear.  Until the tiger is gone and we can enjoy the flowers again….

Yin and Yang.    To be aware, and alert, but simultaneously hold our hands empty is an amazing achievement.


Last Sunday I was at a Lifetime achievement awards ceremony for Sijo Steve Muhammad. One after another, great fighters, great warriors, went to the microphone to speak.  And I mean “warrior” by whatever measure you wish: a disproportionate number of those men were veterans, many of whom had served in combat.  But from all of them, what I saw was an outpouring of love, of kindness, gentility, an embracing of life and a humble gratitude to be in a room filled with brothers and sisters.  So much love from such a group of deadly, dangerous human beings.

THAT is what we are.  And in their heyday? They beat the hell out of each other, and then hugged, knowing that they had helped each other be strong.  No “losers”.  Just people willing to commit their bodies and hearts to sharpen each others’ swords that they might protect their families all the better.


I remember being at a tournament when a great friend, martial arts whiz Ray Doss, blazed through his competition in the lightweight division. The Middleweight and Heavyweight fighters were terrified of him (Ray was BLAZING fast!) and colluded to convince the judges to deny him an opportunity to fight for Grand Champion.  Instead, these men, both from the same rival school, split the trophy between them.

I was enraged.   Ray was sanguine.  “How can you be peaceful about that, Ray!   They stole that trophy!”

“No,” he replied calmly.  “They turned it into a piece of plastic.”

Wow.   THAT was a man who knew that he had the right to define his own terms of victory.  A man who, if you stepped into the circle and fought fair, there was literally no way to lose: you either get a ribbon, or learn a lesson.

Win Win. THAT  is the reality of life, if you choose to accept it.  The rest is just a game.





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