Posted on 13 March 2019
How do we measure ourselves? What is the thing by which we define success and failure? If you’re talking about sport that’s easy; you either win or you lose. One team or player finishes at the top, the rest don’t. In Australia, we’re a sport-loving country. Whether it’s your city, your state or a national side we have a wide selection of sports that we follow with an almost evangelical passion. But even if you don’t follow a sport, don’t live and die by a specific code, the attitudes and the culture that surrounds it are impossible to escape in our day-to-day lives.
The sense of identity and value in our society has become so closely connected to these sporting notions and measurements of value, as has the understandings of that is it to be Australian and a man in this country. We are focused on winning versus losing, success versus failure. Even if we don’t notice it, these equations have become a defining part of our identity as men. But what it boils down to is this- “losing means weakness”. And men aren’t weak, necessarily.
Is this the limit of our identity? Courtesy of Kundie
We’re toilers, back-breaking labourers, sheep shearers, we’re Dean Jones scoring 210 in Chennai when he could barely even stand. We are not weak. We’re not weak because we’re not allowed to be, because we’re told that that’s simply not the way it is for us. Australian men are told to hate losing because, in a deep down and unspoken truth, we are scared, terrified, of that weakness. Let’s look at it through the lens of the previous summer of cricket. Two test series, one against a strong and capable side (India) and one against a team with a long way to go (Sri Lanka). Back in November, all the talk was focused on winning the series at home against Virat Kohli’s world-beating team, and finally notching up a Test win for the first time since the opening match of the infamous South African tour. Expectations were high for the boys in the Baggy Greens, but there was still an air of confident inevitability leading into the first match. After all, this is Australia playing in our own backyard, no one beats us here, least of all a side that has never won a series on our soil. And then, by early January, it had all come crashing down. But in truth, the panic had set in much earlier in the summer, seen in the way players were traded in and out from match to match, as if the powers that be were desperately trying to find that one perfect piece that would complete the puzzle.
Courtesy of Times of Oman
Winning is a comfortable state for us, it’s where we feel happiest and most in control. When we lose we believe it points to a fault, a fundamental flaw in us, or in what we are doing. But we’re not scared of losing simply because it is an unpleasant thing to experience, we’re scared of it because we are told to be. We are told this every day, through the expectations that are put upon us, or the want and need we are trained to have to be tough, hard and strong. To be anything else is to be something lesser than what we should be. So what if we had just let the Australian Test side lose, but lose together? No team changes from match to match, instead they just learn what it is to experience that disappointment or heartbreak together, to live in that feeling, understand it and work to overcome it next time. Wouldn’t they grow closer together, develop a better level of understanding and be able to support each other through difficult periods on and off the field? Wouldn’t they understand that it was something that they were allowed to experience?
Not because losing is fun (it’s not), or because losing is what we should strive for in competitive sport, but because it is simply just a part of the deal. In most situations throughout our lives a risk of loss or defeat will be present, and to deny that is to create a dangerously skewed idea of value, worth and personal growth. We spend so much time as men in this country running away from losing and, consequently, feeling that vulnerability or even the slightest weakness is something that has to be avoided. We are taught to mark our progress or development to that most exalted definition of ‘a man’ by what we win, by the strides we take forward and by how we are able to deny this vulnerability at every corner. But in doing so we are denying the benefit and necessity of losing. And more importantly, it teaches us that we don’t have to ask permission to feel vulnerable, and the weakness we’re told comes with finishing on anything other than the top step of the podium is just an echo of an outdated and damaging philosophy.
What sort of strength do we value now? Courtesy of The Bioneer
We as men have to recognise that we are worth so much more than what winning can provide us, and that crossing the line first and success are not always one and the same. Men can lose, they can fail and they can go backwards. And that’s just fine. It just makes those moments when we do come out on top, when we reach those heights of hard-earned personal achievement and victory all the sweeter and more rewarding. Because we know where we’ve been, and what has brought us to where we are now.
Will Dunn completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Screenwriting) at the Victorian College of the Arts. He is currently trying to figure out how to make that degree useful.