As a preteen, my daughter had a friend who was ultra-competitive in everything. She had athletic prowess and she was the outgoing type of kid who never had trouble finding people to hang-out with. But she had a dark side that to my relief, eventually ended the relationship with my child. The trouble began with arguments and minor thefts (borrowing and forgetting to return items). I learned that she started asking my child for her completed homework assignments. This young lady was driven to win at all costs. During a sleepover at our house, I witnessed her grow angry after she lost a trivia game. She accused my daughter of cheating and demanded a replay. During the second round, I caught her nudging her own pawn around the board when she thought nobody was looking. She denied it after I gently confronted her. I declared “game over” after she did it the second time.
As you might guess, this girl went on to be declared the “most popular” member of her graduating class before breezing through college and beginning a successful career. People like her most always do. But their conquests leave a trail of damage behind them, most notably in the form of broken relationships. Their manipulative games cost real people real money. They weaken the institutions with which they have become entangled in. They influence our world in ways that increase inequalities between the “haves” and the “have nots.” In some cases their lack of moral compass is paid for by society through the cost of lives lost. That’s not what winning looks like at all.
Back in my childhood days, we called rule-breaking what it is: cheating, lying, and stealing. It was not tolerated in the home or the school. But today, ruthless ambition is celebrated and rule-breaking dismissed as the means to an end. We forgive our friends’ transgressions too quickly and too easily, lest we become thought of as “losers” by others. In doing so, we lose our own moral compass and cause others to do the same. It is for this reason that we continue watching capitalism crumble and democracies fall.