Words of Wisdom: A Third Option?

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walt-pickut Contributing Editor
Contributing Editor

Back in 2016, the summer Olympics—the 31st Olympiad of the Modern Era—brought athletes together from 207 countries to compete in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The medal count added up to 307 gold, 307, silver, and 359 bronze medals, for a grand total of 973 athletes on the podium out of the 11,238 athletes competing.

This year, the 32nd Olympiad will create a similar spectacle for the whole world to watch in Tokyo, Japan. It will once again create a very strange paradox that almost nobody notices.

Paradoxically, everybody but the gold medal winners can be called losers. The Olympic ideal, however, says that the very good athletes—silver and bronze medal winners—do deserve credit beside the gold medal best.

Joe Torre, who managed the New York Yankees to four World Series championships and was the only major leaguer to tally up 2,000 hits and 2,000 wins as a manager, saw the paradox, too. Joe once told a sports reporter, “It’s nice to be in first place. But just because you’re not a winner doesn’t mean you’re a loser.”

Yet, it seems we do disagree with Joe. Consider some of our other favorite competitions, like the Super Bowl, the Wimbledon, the Stanley Cup, and even Joe’s World Series. Nobody ever got a silver or bronze medal for losing those. We love winners and losers, and we love it when the winners take all.

And that’s a problem.

This week the Jamestown Gazette’s guest contributor, Joni Blackman, brings us an in-depth conversation with another winner, local attorney Eddie Sundquist, who was just sworn in as the next mayor of Jamestown, New York.

Mayor Sundquist’s success in the recent election, however, will not guarantee his success as a mayor, nor would it for any other winner. Success depends on whether a politician or citizen treats an election like the Olympics or like the Superbowl.

The Superbowl model of politics says winner takes all, in power, decision making, and goal setting. Losers get nothing. But usually, in American politics at all levels, the winner rarely wins by a landslide. Nearly as many people voted for the loser. And that’s a silver medal!

Winner takes all may be one of the worst of all models for politics. It risks granting power to a winner to ignore, even dominate, the second largest part of the population.

The Olympic model of politics, on the other hand, says that second best is nearly as good as the best, when all the votes are counted, and should not be discounted for losing.

Winner-takes-all politics urges voters in the winning party to assume the losers are all wrong, ignorant, or misinformed and deserve no role in piloting the ship of state.

Democracy is not that kind of sport. We are all on the winner’s team, and the winner plays to win for us all.

That’s the third option beyond winners and losers.

Enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.