Recently, as we were flipping through radio stations in the car, my 6-year-old daughter heard the song "We Are the Champions" by Queen. She asked what a champion is, and we started talking about winning and losing. At one point in the conversation she said, "Winning isn't fair because not everyone can do it." Her response is, sadly, quite common.
Sometime over the past few decades a mindset of "fair" has developed, calling for everyone to finish in the exact same place and receive the exact same reward. Fair has become equity in the finish instead of equity in the process. This perspective says a reward is due just for showing up, not because it's earned. It cheapens real rewards for actual successes, and as it creeps into different areas of life, it undermines valuable assets such as hard work or giftedness.
Naturally, accompanying this mindset is the idea that "everyone is a winner." This is especially prevalent in teaching, coaching, and parenting younger children. I understand why this attitude prevails. Nobody wants a child to feel like a loser. Nobody wants a child to feel shame and sense that she is less significant because of a failure or because she was outdone. But saying "we're all winners" doesn't help much when the child eventually loses, and not keeping track of the score at peewee soccer or T-ball games can't fend off reality forever. Everyone loses sometime.
One of my primary responsibilities as a parent is to prepare my children for all of life, not just what I want their life to hold. Of course, I never want my children to fail, but they will fail. I do not want them to experience disappointment, but it is unavoidable. They will not always be winners and will thus be forced to deal with the struggles of losing. If all I have taught them is that they are winners, what have I really prepared them for besides delusions of ease and grandeur?
Winning and losing are a part of life. And so are the accompanying rewards and struggles. Sadly, the contests are often not fair, making those struggles even more poignant. What am I to do as a parent? I cannot stick my head in the sand and my daughters' along with it.
Winning and losing are real, so I must model being a humble and gracious winner and loser, no matter whether the circumstances are fair or not. My children need a definition of "fair" that motivates them to work hard and develop the gifts God has given them, not one that teaches them to expect praise and prizes at every turn. Most importantly, I must show them and teach them what it means to find value not in victory but in being a reflection of the Creator.