I will step on you to win.

(Actual quotation from a Nike t-shirt spotted on a USC student)

When the desire for success–whatever that word means: academics, sports, cheap clothing, convenient food–outweighs our care for other human beings, really frightening things happen.

Holocaust much?  Do you remember Eugenics?  Or perhaps Bangladesh? (fire today, aside from the collapse recently)

When “winning” takes the front seat and people take the back, how can the end not-be sitting alone with a bunch of trophies? (or a monstrous pile of tee shirts in your closet, or a Stepford community?)  What is it that brings people most happiness, most joy, most fulfillment?  What are the moments in your life that you remember as happy and joyful and fulfilled?

Some of mine are long runs with my high school cross country team; sure, the year (and moment) we won our league tournament was great, but I recall our carbo-load dinners and our Long Slow Distance practices–running six or eight miles together after school–with more warmth.

In college, I remember sitting outside the student union in the sunshine, exultant when friends would walk by and stay to chat; earning good grades on papers produced moments of exultation too, but I remember more of long nights in the library, studying some and talking a lot, and saving seats for friends who always came late to class.

Eugenics and the Holocaust and the atrocities of Bangladesh seem far from a sentiment on a tee shirt that might be meant simply to instill determination, but the popularity of this winning attitude, placing personal success above relationships, is probably not a coincidence when considered with the all-time-high numbers of people who identify as isolated, lonely, and depressed.

What is “winning” worth?

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