Victory at all costs for today is a dead end. Tomorrow will be here soon enough. Always think about tomorrow.
The western world is more bitterly divided than at any time in my life. Disruptive forces are at free play in the US and UK, creating chaos, upending previous certainties, ruining lives. I would argue that one of the main drivers of these disruptive forces is the need to win at all costs.
A dangerously toxic by-product of this current singular focus on victory is the division of people into winners and losers. Talk of life’s winners and losers is becoming normalised, spilling over into everyday life, everyday conversation.
We need to be alert to the risks of reducing human beings to winners and losers whenever and wherever it might occur, in politics or in our daily lives.
Writer Ami Rao expressed her dismay at this trend to divide people into winners and losers in a recent tweet to Neil Morrison*:
“‘Win at life’ seems to be a very popular idea these days. It’s not something I believe in – I can’t even imagine what winning at life looks like. I used to make this error when I was younger. Then you get older and realise life is not set up this way, as if it were a game.”
Exactly. Life shouldn’t be reduced to a game with winners and losers. It is so much more complex, so much more rich than that. And so prone to change. Tomorrow will be here soon enough.
Winning’s not all it’s cracked up to be
In his recent appearance on Brian Koppelman’s The Moment podcast, former US General Stanley McChrystal argues that victory at all costs is a dangerously short-term objective:
“People say ‘I like winners. We need winners.’ I would argue winning’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
General McChrystal makes frequent use of the term “scar tissue” to describe the lasting negative consequences of our actions. He argues that the scar tissue of the Allies’ punitive measures against Germany following World War I resulted ultimately in World War II.
We should always think of the scar tissue that might result from our actions. Splitting people into winners and losers creates scar tissue.
It is wise to build a sustainable future, not one in which winning an immediate, short-term victory salts the earth or sows the seeds for subsequent bitter conflict. This applies just as much to our everyday life as to the battlefield. General McChrystal says:
“I told my team, always think about tomorrow. If we’ve got to give up this near-term decision, we’ve got to lose this argument, let’s keep an eye to the future. We’d hope that we’d build good relations that at later times would pay off. I’ve found over and over in life. If you best your client, you get a really good deal and come out ahead and they’ve clearly lost, they’re not gonna do business with you again, and the word’s gonna get out.”
Tomorrow is infinite
The art of the one-sided deal. The belief that the short-term end justifies any means. The classification of human beings as winners and losers. For Ami Rao, these fixations suggest a tendency “for a finite being to think of themselves as infinite.”
Today is finite. Tomorrow is infinite. Always think about tomorrow.
* Ami and Neil were discussing a Twitter thread in which victims of bullying in childhood exchanged stories of how they believed they had “won” in life, as they had seen their respective bullies in apparently reduced circumstances in adulthood.