Trusting That I Can, Day 4: The killer instinct vs. “please & thank you”

B’s class at school has been learning about the events in the ancient pentathlon as part of their Greek History block. The kids will be in a mock competition in a few weeks and the staff obligingly held a little training session for the parents so we could learn how hopeless we are at javelin- and discus-throwing.

Not that it wasn’t interesting. Besides setting off all kinds of inner flashbacks about my own childhood athletic failures, I also learned something about how I handle competition.

The group tried a watered-down version of Greek wrestling, which was basically standing in a ring of chalk with another parent and trying to push each other out. I gamely got into the ring with another equally game mom and immediately felt like a gazelle locked in a cage with a panther. She was in it to win — not badly, not meanly — but she was strong and not fooling around.

What was I in it for? Who knows? I hadn’t thought about it. So I panicked. Panic A was “Oh s**t, I’m not strong enough to win!” Panic B was “Oh no, what if I hurt her feelings?” But I wasn’t going to lose either, so I fought back, a little bit.

We ended up in a stalemate, called for time. I have no idea if I could have won, but I noticed that I did summon enough strength not to lose. An intense instinct for survival came hurtling to my rescue, and I tied one hand behind its back because I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do.

Watching B play soccer this morning reminded me of this. One girl kicked the ball straight into another’s chest, immediately stopped and apologized in a squeaky little voice of horror, her hands to her mouth and the game temporarily forgotten.

We do this. I do this. And the immediacy of physical “fighting” made it all more real. I’m glad B and L both have played more contact sports than I did so that they can start to work this out. There is much good in not having a killer instinct — let’s always check and see if others are ok — but this tea-party demeanor can get in the way too.

So I’m left with mulling over my instincts. What will I do to win? Can I change what seems pretty deeply embedded? Of course, “winning” needs to be fairly well defined, but since I tend to prefer tea-party land (“No, no — you first!),  I’d like to parse out this difference between not losing and solid achievement so I can make use of each skill as I chose. And then, give that gift to my girls. Because winning’s a good thing too.


This post is part of a series of posts on trust, based on the 21-Day Salutes originated by blogger Colleen Wainwright. The intention is to write daily to help shift a habit. Originally, she had been told that it takes 21 days of new behavior to change a habit. She has since found out that it is apparently takes much longer. Oh well….

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6 Responses to Trusting That I Can, Day 4: The killer instinct vs. “please & thank you”

  1. To win or be nice. Hmmmmm…..hard to choose!

  2. Bexley Beth says:

    I confess, I play to win. Always have and suspect that I always will. But I find that over time my measure of what constitutes winning has changed. Part of that amounts to setting rules for how I will play the game and sticking to them. If I break those rules, game over plus I have lost much more than the game.
    Our competitions are not in isolation. We find over time our opponents resurface or reappear in our lives. Sometimes they become our teammates, our bosses, our clients, our children’s teachers, etc. Yet our opponent is always our neighbor to whom, win or lose, we should endeavor to show compassion. If we are compassionate, do we ever truly lose?

    • growingmygirls says:

      Lovely Beth. Yes, I’m think that little episode got me thinking about how to refine my thinking about competition so that it and compassion are not mutually exclusive. In that little wrestling thing, I was not comfortable, I now realize, in being the easy-going person who won. Why not?

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