God, please save me from the need to win

I’m as much of a competitor as anyone I know. I love to play the game and win if at all possible, but I don’t always come out the victor. There are times when I play against someone that is simply more intelligent than I am or happens to get the better hand or draw. That’s what makes playing games, cards, contests, or quizzes so much fun for most people. If one is going to win every time, then really what’s the use of playing?

Scrabble has been my game of choice for many years. My sister-in-law, Teresa Fowler Stancil, who lives in Georgia, and I have been known to have marathon games that last for weeks and weeks. We have now admittedly come into the age of computers and have discovered several games of Scrabble designed for the Internet. I can make my move, send it to her, she makes her move, and sends her word back to me.

In December, I bought myself an iPad, simply because I had been told that game playing was taken to a new level with that particular device. I confess — I love it! While playing Scrabble on my iPad the other day, I was rather amazed to see two different players living in different states and, as far as I know, not even knowing the other person come up with two of the same very odd, words in one game. I wondered if either player would know what either of the words meant if they were called on to use it in a sentence. Before we could use a word in school, and I know I’m dating myself here, we had to be able to pronounce the word clearly, spell it from memory and use it correctly in a sentence. But, hey, I guess times are a’changing, huh?

One of the words I had never even heard of, and I’ve made my living with words for many years. Now, the general rule is that the only acceptable resource available during the game is the dictionary suggested by the manufacturer, and that is only opened if there is an orderly challenge to the spelling of the word. You can win 50 extra points if you challenge and the word proves incorrect. But someone wrote and told me that there is an application for the Droid, iPhone, and iPad (and perhaps other devices) that gives you difficult and high point scoring words to use in playing the word games. If you are stumped, you simply go to the screen, and yes, you guessed it, there’s an app for that. Apparently both of the very odd words were found on the list of cheater aids.

Why would anyone want to play a game and then resort to cheating is beyond me. My mother had another of those old sayings that came to mind. I posted my thoughts and sure enough, two people that I play with immediately hit replied. One said, “Well, I know every word I’ve used and I don’t cheat.” Another sheepishly wrote a second note to ask if there was an app that revealed who uses the apps to find words. “Not to my knowledge,” I wrote back. I’ve never ever seen the app that gives you the words.

Mother always said that when you throw a rock into a pack of angry dogs, the one that is hit would yelp the loudest. Could that be what was happening to my game-playing pals? This incident opened up a well of conversation for several days among my friends. Was it wrong or right to use helps in playing Internet games? The general opinion was that both parties must know and if they agree, then it would be acceptable.

It seems to me that the entire idea of winning at any cost is woven tightly into the fabric of our beings in this day and age from games to sports to professions. Everybody loves a winner. “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing,” seems to resonate with some folks.

The real need to win, I believe, is rooted in anxiety and fear, fear of failure, fear of looking bad to others, and the fear of perhaps being scorned by another person, or somehow, being thought less of, even though the game is rather insignificant.

I read with interest that Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of modern karate in Japan, was strongly opposed to competition. Funakoshi’s techniques were based on “bunkai” or self-defense applications, and he would not let his students participate in tournaments for the sake of winning a trophy. Many others disagree with his thinking, but it was interesting to note. The story is told of a competitor that was unbeatable on the tournament circuit. He won a number of grand championship titles, but one day it happened. He lost. He never competed again.

I love to win, but I really don’t mind losing to a person who plays by the same rules as I am using. Teresa and I are about as evenly matched as any two folks can be, and we’ve never had a question or an argument about a game. She wins some. I win some, but we do it from memory and from our own respective banks of knowledge. Oh, and she comes up with some fancy words from all of her years of medical transcription knowledge, and I don’t often challenge the mega-point ones she puts on the board. I’ve been proved wrong too often, and I hate losing those 50-point challenges.

One dear lady wrote and said, “Oh, it’s just a game. Why worry about it?” And then she added, “I’d hate for my intelligence to be judged by my Scrabble playing.” I thought about that for a while, and though I did not comment, I don’t mind at all for my intelligence to be judged by my many years of Scrabble playing. That’s as good a practical indicator as any I know — if we play on the same board with the same rules.

Brenda Cannon Henley is an award-winning journalist and writer living on the Southeast Texas Gulf Coast. Having enjoyed more than four decades in ministry, Brenda shares her columns with our readers and works with churches and faith-based programs nationwide. She can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.