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Thursday, July 5,2012

Winning Through Losing

By Cary Bayer  
Win is an enlightened scenario that has come into parlance in recent years. As a workshop leader and life coach, I teach my students and clients about win/win/that takes this progressive insight one step further. But the all-toocommon mind-set is win/lose, the zero sum game that dominates sports and other competitive contests.


I engaged in one such contest last night with my wife and my niece, who is visiting us from Texas. It was a word game that I used to play with my mother--talking about keeping it in the family--when I was eleven years old. We used to take a large word and make smaller words out of it, each of which had to contain three or more letters, and without the use of an “s” for plurals or an “ed” for past tenses. One day, Mom and I took the word “establishment,” and I made 252 words out of it. Amazing that I can still remember such specifics.

Fast forward far too many years than I care to say, and this time, at my wife’s insistence, points were awarded for any word if neither of one’s “opponents” had it. The point tally was based on how many letters the word contained. My wife, who’s as competitive a tennis player as I am, is also a competitive word game player, spending many a free minute engaged in online Scrabble against several equally competitive and literate opponents.

Last night, I saw some good words—Mom would have been proud—but it was nothing compared to my wife’s output. She was calling out words that nobody with an excellent vocabulary—that would be me—could possibly know unless he has already osmotically soaked up the Scrabble dictionary, or scoured Webster’s for obscure words. Bear with me on this story because there’s a huge lesson for any competitiveminded person here.

She came up with words like ria (something to do with a river), mir (something Russian) and edh (something to do with I can’t even remember what…I thought she was simply clearing her throat). I became increasingly annoyed with all these “Scrabble” words that are buried in the dictionary. I got further upset when her “Scrabble dictionary” ruled my “riche” as invalid, but her eta (Greek letter) as acceptance and ditto her chi (vital energy in Chinese), which made her own chi even finer. Apparently, riche isn’t a nouveau word to Scrabble.

After being soundly beaten— Muhammad Ali would have called it “wupped”—in the first round, I vowed to concentrate further. I got even more wupped in the second. After licking my wounds, and feeling ashamed for being a sore loser, I vowed to see the “Life 101” lesson in this harmless little pastime that I was playing with my wife and my niece.

I chose to let go of any desire to win, because my wife knew far too many words more than I did. What’s more, her rules said that she didn’t need to know what any of her words meant, only that they were in the Scrabble dictionary, the equivalent of Alex Trebek’s judges on “Jeopardy.” I chose to see it as an opportunity to learn such words. It certainly couldn’t hurt my tackling of the Sunday crossword puzzles that I do each week.

I made some progress on this “Life 101” quest, even though I have to admit that an even further trouncing in the third round stopped me from looking at my mate as she called out her obscure game-winning words. But the next time I play the game with her, I’ll be sharpening my concentration, employing some of the words I’ve learned from her, and learning how to lose graciously. And the latter is the biggest win of all.


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