During the World Cup, the United States played Iran. The history of these two countries is rife with conflict. The stakes for this game were high. The winner would continue in the tournament and the loser would go home. Beyond the field of play, tensions were particularly high given the current human rights issues in Iran.

Yet when the game was over, amid the victorious USA celebration there was this moving clip of a member of Team USA consoling a member of the Iranian team.

Both teams fought hard. Both were competing for the same prize which they valued equally. Both treated each other with respect on the pitch and after the game.

The adage goes, “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The implication is how you play impacts how you feel about the result after.

In an increasingly divided dog-eat-dog world, how we play is being sacrificed at the altar of a “win at all costs” society.

We no longer respect those we compete against, we see them as our enemy.  Either to be dismissed or hated.

Instead of acknowledging that they often want the same things we want – but may have a different idea of how to get it – we demonize or seek to demoralize them.

A few cases in point. 

In just the last two months, I’ve heard of a local youth soccer game of twelve year olds where the final score was 14-0. It was not just that the score was lopsided but so too was the experience, resources and training that one team had over the other.  Instead of pulling back and respecting this fact, one team humiliated another. Could anyone really feel good about this result?

Our recent elections were ugly as usual. But beyond the rancor of the rhetoric does anyone think that spending $400 million on one Senate race in Georgia is the best use of those resources. Imagine the good that could have been done if those same resources were used to benefit the citizens of that state. How matters. Winning at all costs, has a cost.

And finally, I’ve been engaged in a strike as a member of a part-time faculty union. It has been long, difficult and ugly. Sides talking past each other. Not respecting one another. Misunderstandings led to more pain, for the union, the university, students and their parents. One side will claim victory but if the “how” of negotiations leaves the institution severely damaged, who will have really won in the long term?

I like to win as much as the next person. More than that, I hate to lose. These feelings are natural. The question to ask yourself though is “how do we feel after the initial feelings of bliss or loss fade?”  

Do you feel good about how you acted? Do you even consider how the other side might now feel?  Do you have more respect for yourself and the other side — or less?  Is there anything you should have done differently? Was there any damage done by how you competed? 

When the game is over, the race is run, the negotiations complete, do the two sides even want to come together – like what we witnessed in the Iran/USA game.  If the answer is no, then there was likely a problem with how someone “played the game.” 

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