Aaron Yang

High school Mathematics teacher,

This conversation is closed.

Do we need "losers" to have "winners" in life?

I have recently decided to pursue a career in education and am trying to prepare myself for the upcoming school year. Some of my fears include dispassionate students and the diverse learning curve in a classroom. Although I am wholly optimistic and seeing the best in everyone, I know others will not see the same way. This got me thinking about the success of every individual on this planet.

For there to be winners/successful people, there must be others taking the hit. My question is, do we need to have this structure of successful and non-successful people in the world? Would it be possible for global happiness if everyone received the same goods and services, such as in communism?

Others will argue that different individuals are content with different levels of prosperity. But, at their levels of contentedness will the world remain stable? Say one individual is content with being a gardener after completing 5 years of grade school, whereas another individual is content with being a surgeon after completing 25 years of schooling.

In our society, do we let the unmotivated fall, so the ambitious can rise? Or should we uphold an optimistic approach of everyone becoming successful and prosperous, is this possible?

EDIT::: perhaps this would be more clear.

"If everyone gave their best at whatever they choose, would there be a niche for everyone in society?"

  • Feb 6 2013: It seems to me that you are mixing up perception with actual performance.

    When you refer to winners and losers, you seem to be referring to the subjective, perceived satisfaction of the winners and losers. That is a very different matter than assuring that each of your students is progressing as quickly as possible.

    Regarding peoples' attitudes toward winning and losing, this is an attitude problem that is shaped from early childhood through adult years. In part the problem comes from parents, but a bigger part is the culture of competition that envelopes all of us. Competition is good when limited to the appropriate areas. Our attitude with regards to competition needs improvement. The word loser has become a common insult, and some very competitive people say that coming in second place means you are merely the best loser. This attitude implies that only a very few, the very best, are successful and everybody else are losers. This attitude may be a great motivator for the most competitive among us, but it is not useful for the masses.

    One of the big flaws in our attitude is that, In the USA especially, we tend to make everything into a competition. This is a huge mistake. Some aspects of life should be competitive, but many should not. Elementary school, especially, should not be competitive at all. This is a lesson that is not easy to teach. To some extent, competition is natural. We all want to feel that we are better than the next person. When raising children we must confront these attitudes and feelings and teach children both the positive and the negative affects of competition. This is a very important lesson that many people never learn.
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    Gail .

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    Feb 6 2013: You conflate "success" and "money" with success. You also have a very narrow view of humanity that you will grow out of through exposure.

    I know people with a PhD who have left your definition of success. The most brilliant is now a carpenter because he loves working with wood. Happiness does not appear just because you are economically equal. It appears when you choose it. No one need do without in order for you to choose it.
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      Feb 6 2013: So you think it's possible to create a seamlessly functioning society where everyone is satisfied with their place/occupation?
      • Feb 6 2013: Hello Aaron, I hope you and TED Lover do not mind if I throw in my answer to this very big question.

        No and Yes.

        No, a "seamlessly functioning society" will never happen.

        Yes, I think it is possible, over the next few centuries, to teach all people to have realistic attitudes about success and our place and occupation in life. This might not result in satisfaction, but it will result in acceptance.

        I would much prefer to have been born rich and extremely intelligent. If I allow my satisfaction to be determined by what others have, that I do not, I will always be dissatisfied. But I do not have to think and feel this way. I am satisfied with the life I have. We can choose our attitude about these matters, and that lesson can be taught to everyone. Of course no one will be satisfied if they do not have enough for the survival of themselves and their family. Satisfaction does require minimal resources. IMO, we are approaching a time when this minimum will be available to everyone.
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          Feb 6 2013: "We can choose our attitude about these matters, and that lesson can be taught to everyone."

          Thank Barry, what you said there cleared things up very well for me.
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    Feb 6 2013: Nope, life is not a zero sum game
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    Feb 6 2013: Aaron, you asked lots of questions here. I will respond only to a few.

    In the classroom, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much growth you will be able to see in EVERY student who actually comes to school regularly and even in some whose attendance is only sporadic. Math is extremely cool and can sell itself with a little help and a lot of energy from you.

    You have to let kids engage with each other as you move around and you have to 'mix it up" so that you do a variety of things and come at material in a variety of ways. Be lively and encouraging, mix more challenging stuff with more readily accessible stuff...

    In a classroom you can and should have all winners and no losers. It's not a football game.

    If you have never watched a video or seen in person a great secondary math teacher interacting with his students, find an opportunity.
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      Feb 6 2013: I appreciate your input, I am just now entering an alternative teaching certification program.

      Do we need a strong level of blue collar workers? The students that are ambitious tend to stray away from these kinds of jobs. Do you think there will be kids inspired to be a plumber?
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        Feb 6 2013: I think there will always be people drawn to trades and crafts. But in your work as a teacher, you are preparing students to have a range of choices of career (their aspirations, but also other options they may not have considered) as well as preparing them for life outside of career.
  • Feb 18 2013: Since your main question is that "Can we teach the young students the concept of "everyone does his best and be satisfied in what he is rewarded from his work regardless of how he was paid/compensated for his effort". This concept of life have been advocated by almost all the popular religions as well as many philosophers. For religious teaching, the explanation is that one should be satisfied with whatever the "God" (In different terminology but essentially the same thing) gives him. However, the human nature would not allow that there won't be competition, envy and discontent among us regarding this "unfairness"; whether real or imagined. But there are somethings an educator can do to at least lessen such envious nature by imbed the concept of the joy of working hard for the fellow men for whatever compensation for one's effort. Usually, if one is really working hard and perform good work, he will be rewarded well with rare exceptions. In communist countries this concept of pay as what one's worth would be the root of new "envy", thus hard work would be discouraged.
    In my opinion, there are more things a teacher can do to cultivate good workers out of most students by showing the students of the "what", "why" and "how" to learn for their life. The usual teacher's function is to stuff lot of information or knowledge into the students' mind/brain, but neglecting the why and how to learn (efficiently). Once they learned the latter 2 concepts, they will naturally enjoy more creative life work, instead of being envious of why others are more successful than themselves. There are so many scientists and researchers who were working tirelessly in all their life without even thinking about the compensation they receive, because the joy of their ability to contribute their effort to improve the welfare of the human society was far more enjoyable than the compensation. I am sure that you and I, as educators, should understand this phenomenon quite well.
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    Feb 7 2013: Hi Aaron,

    This is a question I have been struggling with a lot recently, so I appreciate you forming this TED conversation. I think you raise a couple of ideas that are worth discussing.

    First, you mention money and while I realize this was not your definition of success, the issue of wealth distribution in our world is very apparent. While having money doesn't necessarily mean you are happy, NO ONE is happy living in extreme poverty, or in poverty at all. With that being said, we can see that people do live in unfortunate circumstances today that are completely out of their control. This does not mean that the wealthy shouldn't get wealthier, but at the same time if it is 2012 and more than 50% of the population live on less than 1500 a year we are doing something wrong as a global society.

    I wonder if this means that we are focusing immensely more on the success of few individuals rather than the happiness of the greater community.

    Having the terms "losers" and "winners" just goes to show how far our society is from serving the needs of most people. Clearly, these terms are subjective. Moreover, I find it impossible to define a person as either a "winner" or "loser"...I find human beings to be more valuable than to be reduced to fit one of two narrowly defined terms. I think we need to be okay with not labeling everything, especially human beings.
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    Feb 7 2013: Maybe i should have phrased my question better...lol.

    If everyone gave their best at whatever they choose, would there be a niche for everyone in society?
    • Feb 8 2013: People who are willing to give their best can usually find a niche, but often it is not the niche they would prefer.
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    Feb 7 2013: There are winners and losers as far as competitions are concerned; and as human beings we do measure ourselves against others (unfortunately). But how do we measure a football player against a surgeon? Or a Pastor against a Supermodel? Or a teacher against a Nuclear Physicst? Or a Gardener against an architech?

    Life and education is not about getting ahead of others; but about giving your best to whatever you choose to do.