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  Chapter 16 from
Dear Daughter
A father's wise guidance for wholesome human relationship, a happy marriage, and a serene home

By Rabbi Eliyohu Goldschmidt  Rabbi Nosson Scherman 


Other Available Chapters
11 


Winners Are Losers

Dear Daughter,

Now that you are a married lady with a home and children of your own, those summers you spent in camp when you were a young girl must seem very far away. Well, let me remind you of a certain visiting day which still stands out in my mind, and I am sure in yours as well.

It was a drizzly, miserable day, and the drive up to camp in the mountains took us well over three hours. But we never even considered not going. Visiting day is so important to campers, and we were so eager to see your shining face.

Unfortunately, your face was shining in a different way that day. It glistened with tears.

“What happened?” your mother and I cried out at the same time.

“Color war,” you said and burst into tears all over again.

Your mother and I looked at each other, puzzled.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Is winning color war so important that you have to cry if you lose?”

You looked at me with horror in your eyes and began to cry even harder.

“What’s going on?” I said. “So you lost color war. So what?”

You shook your head. “I didn’t lose,” you said. “I won. And that’s the trouble.” And then a new torrent of tears came flowing down. I threw up my hands in despair. Adolescent daughters!

Well, finally you calmed down and were able to talk a little.

“I won color war,” you said, “but I lost my best friend.”

“I see,” I said, although I didn’t see a thing. But it was something to say.

“Me and my friend Miriam,” you continued, “they put us on opposite sides for color war. We wanted to be on the same team, but they didn’t listen to us. So we were on opposite teams. Anyway, we both got so involved with winning. We both wanted to win so badly that we thought about nothing else. For those two days, we wanted nothing more than to beat each other. And then when color war was over, things just weren’t the same. So you see why I’m upset? I won color war but I lost my best friend!”

I’m sure you remember this day. It’s not something a person ever forgets.

Unfortunately, what happened to you and Miriam in camp happens all too often in everyday relations between people, and it can really destroy a relationship.

The drive to be victorious is part of the darker side of human nature. It is more than just the desire to excel and be successful in anything you try, which is a very good thing that can have positive results in every aspect of your life. This, however, is something else. It is the need to be victorious over another person. If there is a struggle, we have to win; no matter how small the reward, no matter what the cost. Winning is the thing.

That was what happened to you in camp that summer. Both you and Miriam were overcome by this primal need to win, and it destroyed your friendship. Temporarily, of course. You both came to your senses eventually and made up, and your friendship thrives even today. I am very happy about that. But you know, of course, that your friendship could just as easily have died right there in the middle of color war in summer camp. It has happened to too many people.

This terrible thing called the urge to win is one of the most destructive forces in a marriage. It can literally kill it. In a marriage there are always all sorts of disagreements and different points of view. You want to eat fish. He wants to eat meat. You want a minivan. He wants a car. You want to go to Israel. He wants to go to California. You want to go to your parents for Shabbos. He wants to stay home. And so on. Hundreds of things, some major, some minor, all of them points of contention.

The most frightening thing is that it can strike before you even know it. Suddenly, you are in a contest of wills with your husband, a real tug of war. You want one thing, and he wants another. You are arguing heatedly about it. But if you stop to think about, you will wonder, what is so important here? Why are you both getting so excited about this issue? Is it really so important? More often than not, you know what it is? You both want to win. Your desire to win is crashing up against his desire to win. The main thing now is to win, not the issue itself.

If this happens, you are headed down a dangerous road. It doesn’t lead to good places. Because even if you win, you lose. You may win the argument. You may be victorious in the contest of wills and get your way, but the damage to your relationship with your husband is an incredibly high price to pay for a silly little victory. You have to be aware of this all the time, and if or when you see it happening, you have to step back to regain perspective.

I remember speaking to a couple who were experiencing marital problems and were seriously contemplating divorce.

“My husband is totally impossible,” the wife told me. “We just do not see eye to eye.”

“Really?” I said. “Can you give me the most recent example?”

“Sure,” she said. She thought for a moment. “This morning we went to the grocery to buy coffee. I wanted to buy Folgers, and he just insisted that we buy Maxwell House. He absolutely would not give in.”

“I see,” I said. This time I actually did see. These people were a long way down the wrong road. They were invested in winning against each other, no matter the cost. It took a lot of work, but I am pleased to say, we were able to save the marriage. In fact, when they opened their eyes to what was going on, they were shocked that they had been prepared to dissolve their marriage for such a trivial reason.

Some time ago, I visited a friend’s sick child, an 8-year-old boy who was laid up in the hospital for a long time. While I was there, the child’s rebbi showed up.

The boy’s face lit up when he saw his rebbi, and from the look on the rebbi’s face, I could see that the love was reciprocal.

“Here, I brought you a gift,” said the rebbi as he handed him a gift-wrapped oblong package.

The boy eagerly unwrapped the gift, but when he saw what it was, he was disappointed.

“It’s a checkers set,” he said, “but I don’t know how to play.”

“No problem,” said the rebbi. “I’ll teach you.”

And so the rebbi taught the boy how to play checkers, and they began to play. At first, it was very obvious to all of us there, except maybe for the sick boy, that the rebbi was deliberately letting him win. He squealed with delight every time he got one of the rebbi’s pieces, and when he won the game, he was ecstatic.

“Let’s play again,” he begged. And so they played a second, third, fourth and even fifth game. The rebbi let the boy win every single game, to his intense enjoyment.

As the games progressed, however, it became apparent that the boy had caught onto the game and was doing very well. Several times, the rebbi had to struggle to get out of a situation into which the boy had forced him. In fact, it wouldn’t have surprised us if the boy had won a game on his own.

Afterwards, I complimented the rebbi on his visit and the wonders it had done for the boy.

“It looked as if he gave you a really good fight in the checkers game,” I added with a smile.

The rebbi gave me a peculiar look. “You know,” he said, “today I learned an important lesson. In the beginning, when I had just taught him the game, I had an easy time with him. Of course, I let him win, because I wanted to make him happy. But as he began to get the hang of the game and play better and better, he became real competition. And then a strange thing happened. I found myself trying to win! I actually had to force myself to make poor moves and let the boy win.”

I nodded with understanding. “The urge to win,” I said.

“Exactly. I felt this compulsion to fight for victory. ‘Fool,’ I told myself. ‘What do you think you’re doing here? Competing for the checkers championships? You’re here to help a sick child. Let him win!’ So I listened to myself, and I let him win. But it was a scary experience, and it taught me an important lesson. The urge to win, as you call it, is a very dangerous thing.”

Indeed it is.

Overcoming the urge to win is extremely difficult, because you are fighting against the yetzer hara. The urge to win comes from the same source as arrogance. The yetzer hara convinces a person that he must always be right and therefore he must always fight for absolute victory.

This is a bad middah, and we must work hard to break it, as with all bad middos. But it can be done with wisdom and patience.

A person who is quick to anger will wait on a customer patiently and politely because he doesn’t want to lose business. His intelligence and self-interest enable him to overcome his natural tendency.

The same applies here. When you feel that compulsion to win, think of what the costs are. Just as that rebbi was able to control the urge by reminding himself that the whole purpose of being there was to make the sick child feel good, not to win at checkers. You, too, can use this approach to control the urge to win.

Should such a situation ever arise between you and your husband, think of what you have and what you are risking by going down this dangerous road. You have a wonderful husband, a beautiful home, your own little Beis Hamikdash in this world, a pure, holy and happy life. Why should you risk everything on a foolish, irrational urge to gain a meaningless victory?

Just remember to ask yourself that question. No answers are needed.

 
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