Man, don´t get angry

The name might not be familiar to you, but everyone probably knows this board game, in which one player annoys another by sending him back to start just before he reaches the next goal or perhaps when he is just a few moves away from winning the whole game. There are a lot of games that work like this, including Ludo, but only this one has the German name "Mensch ärgere dich nicht", which, as the title suggests, means “Man, don’t get angry”. Whoever thought out the name must have had either a great sense of humor or pedagogical intentions! Or maybe both?

Young children learn by playing. It has more to do with fun and basic feelings of happiness than about winning, although such feelings of happiness are often triggered by little feelings of success – or bigger ones. When a child starts school, a clear distinction usually develops very quickly, between learning and playful pleasure.

The desire to play

This makes the desire for actual play all the greater. In addition to the well-known and seemingly timeless board games, dice and cards, new sociable games appear year after year, the best of which are even awarded prizes. They often involve clever word creations, general knowledge and quiz questions, or solutions to tricky problems or very big challenges, that players must find together. In the end, however, it’s almost always about winning, which, of course, on the flipside, means that it’s also all about losing.

Fun or serious

That’s why, when you play, you get to know character traits in people that often are not seen so clearly otherwise. Some, who usually seem rather reserved and shy, come out of their shell. Others reach unprecedented heights when things get really close and exciting. And there are others who don’t give up, even though they suffer repeated setbacks.

For most of them, above all, playing is about one thing: having fun. For them, playing is a great way to spend time together. They are happy when they win, but they can also lose without their spirits falling. After all, life is serious enough. For others, the fun of the game stops as soon as someone else wins, or even if they simply do better. That’s when the game becomes serious and that’s the person who does, in fact, get angry.

Ego plays along

Whether or not someone can lose graciously is not dependent on a genetic predisposition. Rather, it is a matter of attitude. The idea that a winner is generally superior to a loser becomes an attitude when a person lacks experiences that prove the opposite. The consequence is that they develop an ego that cannot lose, because they then feel inferior, and the person takes offence. If someone with such an ego beats another person with a similar ego, the joy of victory is usually especially great. They both approach the same game with the same level of seriousness.

To be able to accept that the other person was simply better or luckier than oneself requires self-confidence, which is the prerequisite for playing games in the first place. Because in the very next game, things could go in exactly the opposite direction.

Competition as a celebration

In this respect, playing games is a good lesson in life, which some say is, in itself, a great game. Not everyone can or wants to see it that way. And yet there are parallels. For example, when the games involve a sporting competition. When it comes to the Olympic Games, despite commercialization, for many athletes, it is still a case of “just being there is everything” to this day. Each of them has qualified to participate during national championships, through their outstanding performance. And at the same time, everyone knows that in the end, only three athletes in each discipline will ever take home a medal. Only a few will win, many will not. Are they all losers? In my opinion, at least, they are certainly not. After all, it’s only because everyone takes part that the whole thing becomes a big celebration.

Losers can also be winners

This is the idea that still inspires many people around the world today. Both athletes and spectators. Even the very last marathon runner to reach the stadium is celebrated. And his reward is his achievement, and the unique experience of having made it. He knows that he could never have won. But he also knows that he can be proud of himself for what he did achieve. Because that is worth just as much as a victory. Whether or not you can deal constructively with defeat is a question of taking a realistic view of things. Disappointment included.

No game without rules

Every game follows its own rules. You have to know them and abide by them if you want to play. If you don’t play by the rules, you’re playing the wrong game. What might pass as a little cheat in a social game is nothing short of fraud in social and sporting competitions. When it comes to competition in the professional and political sphere, it’s scheming; in competitive sports, it mostly involves doping, by which individuals fraudulently gain advantages over their competitors. In soccer, entire games and even referees have been bought. Those who cannot win by fair means do not deserve to win. But even if a referee makes his decisions as independently and objectively as possible, he can still make a wrong call, and when that happens, the defeat is not only harsh, but also unjust and bitter.

Measurability helps

In high jump, the bar is the objective and incorruptible referee. It is either knocked down or it remains in position, measuring the height of the jump beyond all doubt. In the game of darts, the dart hits a specific segment, in the game of billiards the ball lands in the hole. In running competitions, the inaccuracy of human eyesight has long since been replaced by photos of the finish line from several perspectives, in soccer, video evidence is now available in case of doubt, and in tennis we have the Hawk-Eye. Correct measurements ensure clarity. That doesn’t necessarily make losing any easier. But at least it helps the loser to accept the result. After all, it’s usually only a matter of a few hundredths of a second or perhaps a centimeter. Often, however, a lot of money is at stake.

Trust decides

In democratic societies, too, confidence in measurement, i.e. in the correct counting of votes, plays an important role. Acceptance of the election results is a prerequisite for the peaceful transition of power. The question of political rule is not settled by succession or usurpation, but by the votes of emancipated citizens. This is a valuable achievement of our recent history. It is based on the votes cast by eligible voters, on the one hand, and their trust in the correctness of the counting of all electoral votes, on the other. Part of this concept of a peaceful transfer of power is that there are winners and losers – for a pre-determined time.

Winner for a time

Losing in a democratic election is particularly painful. Because what is at stake here is the free decision of people for one candidate or another – be it that of the people within a party or that of the voters in the country as a whole. Different people and parties are up against each other for power. Sometimes one party or person wins an absolute majority. When this isn’t the case, coalitions have to be formed and compromises made. This is exhausting, but a good thing. Because, in the end, the winner of this “game” is democracy, which is, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, “the worst of all forms of government – except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

More Dagmar Woyde-Koehler