Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's Not Whether You Win or Lose...

These gents knew how to have a ball
I enjoy watching football - both American football and soccer (though only the world cup for the latter).  During the game both sides strive to have possession of the ball and move it to the correct side of the field in order to score the most points.  They must follow certain rules, and referees make sure that the rules are enforced as equally as possible.  The ball is very important for 90 minutes or 4 quarters, the focus of the players and, in some cases, millions of spectators; but what happens to it before and after the game?* 

Does the ball hold the same level of significance, even if a collector pays thousands of dollars to put it in a display case?  No, it held the most importance in the game, but only because it is a necessary element of the game.  In the game of life money, among other things, can easily be thought of as the football.  During our lives we have to deal with money (unless we are acetic monks), but it has importance as a means through which we play the game of life.  At the end, we can't take it with us.  If we make money important in itself, we quickly lose sight of what is truly important, namely our friends and family, being a good person, living virtuously and so on.  Think of athletes who behave badly on the field in order to get the ball against the rules, do we admire them even if they score the goal and win the game?  Perhaps, but if so we have misunderstood the point of the game.

At all times we should remind ourselves what has importance.  It's how we play the game, with ethics intact and with our best effort, regardless of the score or whatever is happening around us.  Is the other team cheating or outscoring us?  So what?  We only ever win or lose the eternal competition with ourselves.  Focusing on others will always result in holding us back from our best effort.  When dealing with money then, keep this in mind, whether you are rich or poor, it only matters whether you are doing your best.  The score doesn't matter, only how you play the game.

* This entire concept comes from Epictetus' Discourses, 2.5.15-20

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