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I have a very competitive son. A game of tennis is only good if he wins and always bad when he loses. Against his elder brother, he loses often. Every loss brings him a long tear.
Every victory brings him a radiant smile. I watch with little interruption his expression of both extremes of emotion. How do I teach him at 10 to be magnanimous in victory and graceful in defeat? A quote in the Looney Tunes cartoon came to the rescue – ‘IT IS THE QUEST, NOT THE TREASURE’
Quest is desire. Treasure is crown. Quest is what we give. Treasure is what we receive. One of life’s greatest mysteries is that victory is not to the strongest, the boldest or the fastest. Life often does not give what we demand, desire or deserve. If that is true, what is the point in striving? Should we stop demanding, desiring or deserving? No! It is tragic to engage life with less energy and less enthusiasm than we possibly can.
Treasure is important. Who the quest makes us is more important. A degree certificate is good. Its quest brings the virtue of devotion, discipline and diligence. Of what benefit is a certificate when learning is not evident? It is quest that gives meaning to treasure.
Victory moves our soul to dance. It makes us feel good, well and worthy. Many will covet that spotlight of excellence and the illusion of superiority it confers. Winning may mean I am better than the other. If I am better, I am good. Defeat is the reverse side of victory.
It leaves us sad, isolated and bitter. We often appropriate victory to ourselves. I made it! Capital I. We disburse defeat to others – ‘the teacher gave me F9’.
In defeat, the illusion of comparison also applies. A damaged window doesn’t look too bad if the gale that broke it blew off my neighbor’s roof. But how does the size of the other man’s misery scale up my joy.
If I am hungry, finding a man who is hungry and homeless, a situation undeniably worse than mine, brings me no comfort. Man thrives in comparison. Joy and sorrow are not absolute. We evaluate both in relation to the people around us. The danger with comparison is that it provides single dimensional view of relative performance.
Purpose and potential are not in the menu. Winning a 100m race is victory. Winning a 100m race in 11 seconds when you can do so in 9 seconds is suboptimal. Winning it in 9 seconds when your purpose in life is orchestra is less fulfilling.
The Loony quote taught my son that all that matters is not the end. He must compete. He must do all he can. He must desire victory but always remember that full effort is full victory. If he must compare, it must be with his personal best and not the other lad.
Comparison with others is the mother of all grief. The richer man’s gold should not make him sad. The poorer man’s misery should not make him glad. He must learn that the goal of contest is not victory over others but victory over self.
The ultimate victory is to be the best he can, to rise as many times as he falls. There is no defeat for sunrise and no end for hope. Today, no matter how the game ends, he walks to the other side of the table to shake hands and two brothers will say in unison – IT IS THE QUEST, NOT THE TREASURE!
Onyeka wrote in from Lagos