- Chapter 39 -
n our sports-minded culture, there is a great deal in the media and in conversation about winners and losers, with the words being applied to many fields other than athletics. The difficulty with this is the implication that for each person who wins, someone else must lose. Obviously, this is true in a tennis game, but although it may be very painful to lose at tennis, loss as applied in the broader fields of life can be more than painful, it can be devastating.
Many best sellers advocate selfishness as an art, offer procedures for dominating others, and explain how to win by intimidation. They are particularly appealing to those who enjoy seeing others crash while they ascend, as a result of their own efforts. However, more desirable ways to succeed do exist and can be applied.
There are several problems with the statement, "Nice guys finish last". In the first place, it should be asked, "Last in what?" In one's personal relationships? In one's family? In one's feeling about oneself? One author of books advocating selfishness and intimidation has made a bundle on royalties, but has been married three times. Success in what?
Most frequently the expression "Nice guys finish last" is used in a vocational context, where it has an unfortunate effect on two types of people. One is represented by tyrannical and dishonest individuals who use the statement as a rationalization for their behavior, justifying their need to win at any cost to others. On the other hand, others use it as an explanation for failure, "I'm a nice guy and bound to finish last. So why try?"
The most misleading aspect of this popular aphorism is that in a high proportion of cases, it simply is not true. Some nice guys, or people we would all consider nice guys, do fail in various aspects of their lives, including the vocational one. On the other hand, it has been my observation that many, many very appealing human beings are successful in their vocations and bring others along in their success. Furthermore, those who are brought along become allies, whereas those who are turned into losers become adversaries.
So, how is it possible to be a compassionate, moral, and friendly person and still be successful? It is largely a matter of an attitude of mind and heart coupled with a capacity to analyze one's own goals and those of others. Having certain insights about human behavior are always necessary for success.
Generally, you get what you invite in life. If you are friendly, open, and cooperative, others, under the vast majority of circumstances, respond in the same way. If you demonstrate antagonism, this is what you will get. If you kick the world, it will kick back, and it can kick harder than you can.
Under most circumstances, people do things because they want to do them. It is difficult to coerce or argue them into taking action, and even if this does work for a while, it usually develops resentments which make future cooperation more difficult. It is frequently possible to create a set of circumstances under which people are pleased to do things, indeed, they get real satisfaction from doing them. At the same time, these can be courses of action which coincide with your goals.
Such a description immediately conjures up in the minds of many a manipulation of human beings. Indeed, there is manipulation in this world, but this implies using trickery and unfair means to achieve selfish ends for the perpetrator, more often than not with ultimate adverse results for the people being manipulated. There are many individuals in this world who achieve satisfaction from manipulation, those who genuinely enjoy seeing others lose when they win. In contrast, others seem to be able to move through life in a friendly manner, inspiring cooperation, and believing that success is available to all. A concept which is very worthy of consideration is that you can't change people, but you can change relationships. In a deep relationship, or even in a casual one, if you alter your actions or responses in a significant way, the other person is bound to change his or her actions and responses. Such alterations on your part can bring about favorable reactions or destructive ones, depending on whether your changes are positive or negative. You can choose either.
This is not to say that people cannot or do not change. Great emotional experience, protracted illness, or religious conversion are examples of factors which can bring about change, for better or worse, but genuine alteration in thought or action is the result of outside stimuli. Change is rarely brought about by forcefully persuading a person to be different.
There is a problem about the expression, "Beat the system." It implies that there has to be a fight. Some people believe that the "system" is inherently bad, that it is unfair, and that it is working against them more than against other people. However, we must face up to the fact that things are as they are, that they might as well make the best of it, and bemoaning their condition is no solution. Furthermore, there are ways to improve life, to have better relationships, and to seek out supportive spiritual values, There are people of good will in this world who are prepared to help.
In fact, there are those who are working valiantly to improve the conditions and circumstances in which the less fortunate and disadvantaged live. Bryan and Beverly have taken a great interest in the farm workers in the orchard country of Pennsylvania. As an architect with Design Corps, he is designing and building low cost housing, and she has worked to secure fair treatment in pay and employment conditions.
An interesting phenomenon to observe is that many who rail against the system do little in their own lives to improve their immediate environment and help others, but only complain. They should stop and ask themselves, "What am I demonstrating in my own personal life as an example? What was the last kind act I did for someone?"
Furthermore, so many of the skills and techniques which allow one to have a successful, comfortable and significant life relate to facts about the world which are not part of any "system", which are neither good or bad, and many of which have always been and always will be. They just are.
Farr's Mens Store closes at 6:00 PM. I telephone a friend who works there and say, "Bill, I'm on my way to the store but may be a little late. I want to buy a brown sweater for a birthday present for tonight. I know just where it is on the shelf and I would be grateful if you would wait for me."
What are the results? I make the purchase and am pleased; my friend is delighted with his birthday sweater; and Bill is glad to render a service to a good customer, and make a sale.
Now, the fact that Farr's Mens' store closes at 6:00 PM is neither good nor bad, moral or immoral, nor in support of or not in support of a "system", nor is calling a friend to do a favor, providing it is not a genuine imposition, and providing you know him well enough to know he would be glad to comply.
This is a minuscule example of lifemanship in action -- figuring out how to buy a sweater when the store would have closed. Life is full of opportunities of lesser, or equal, and of far greater importance to achieve one's goals, but, for so many, the opportunities are missed.
So, it is possible to achieve success in life and bring others along with you without defeating anyone or using manipulation. And it is possible to be a nice guy at the same time. You can have successful allies, or defeated enemies. It is also possible to help others achieve their goals without losing sight of your own, and perhaps help others avoid the self-defeating actions which make a struggle out of life. To make these points has been the goal of Lessons in Lifemanship. There have been a sufficient number of reports over the years of benefits to my "clients" to have encouraged me to share what I have learned.