While driving the other day I had the opportunity to listen to a portion of the Mike Huckabee radio program. I was once quite a follower of talk radio, with tastes that ranged from Rush Limbaugh to Don Imus and a host of others. But I no longer spend the time in a car that I once did and so my time spent with talk radio has lessened greatly.
At any rate, while listening to the Huckabee show I had the mixed pleasure of listening to a discussion (?) concerning trophies for participation. Passions were high and feelings ran deep on each side of the question. It seems that we as a culture have become confused as to the nature of play and the purposes of both winning and losing. Those subjects (play, winning and losing) are what I wish to ponder for a moment or two.
What is the purpose of play? Might I be so bold as to state that the purpose or play is to have FUN! When was it decided that play was to have such great and grave consequences? My memories are filled with images of laughter and smiles. Growing up as a normal (yes, I was normal once) boy I tested myself against other boys, and it matters not in my memory whether I bested those others or not. Those memories, and they are quite clear, give little note as to the outcome of the contests. Those memories are filled with the joy of companionship, and many of those boys (and girls) are my friends still. There are memories of losses, indeed, my baseball "career" was filled with them, but the losses are mere footnotes. It seems to me that the purpose of play is to allow us to exercise, to exercise our spirits, our bodies, and our emotions. Play does not concern itself with such trivial matters as winning and losing or any other such nonsense. Modern culture has made play a much too serious thing. In short, we've taken the fun out of play.
In the process of robbing play of its essential nature we have elevated winning and losing beyond the pale. May I say that winning has been overrated? The worst examples of sportsmanship that I have experienced and observed have come from those who were the winners. I have some experience with winning, mostly in individual competitions, and a great deal of experience when it comes to losing. Growing up as one of the smallest in all my classes I had the great displeasure of being among the last picked at everything involving athletics. I quickly learned that I would have to excel on the field if I was to avoid the bottom of the pecking order. And that I did. But I never forgot the feelings being picked last engendered. Those lessons helped to build my character, which is what they should do. We should play for the love of play itself, the outcome is of secondary importance. Our modern culture is wrong to place such an emphasis on winning.
Those memories gave me a strong desire to help others avoid such a fate. This desire to look out for the "least of these" has been a strong part of my life. As a father of six, including four boys, I have always striven to instill in all my children a sense of fair play and a desire to do one's best, regardless of the outcome. Whether or not I have succeeded will only be known in the years to come. My hope is that their character will reflect the love of play and the value of those we play with.