If underdog = loser, why are we so keen to embrace it?
“I’m the underdog. Everyone loves me.”
I was playing golf with a friend of mine. Look, I’m not a great golfer. I don’t even love it that much. But as you get older the range of sporting activities available to you narrows a bit – and I love sport.
So I was out having a quick 9 holes with a mate. And we’re all over the shop. From one tree line into the other. But at the end of 5 holes, I’m about 8 shots up.
That might sound like a bit, but you could easily make that back in a single hole the way we play. But the reality probably was, that on that day, I was enjoying better form.
And so out the back of the course, with a few beers under the belts, the trash-talking starts.
“I’m coming for you. I’m the under-dog here. Everyone loves the under-dog. The under-dog always wins.”
It’s not true that the under-dog always wins. But leaving that aside, it suddenly struck me as odd that he would want to claim under-dog status.
I can understand why parties do it in politics. There is this interesting egalitarian streak in human nature (or is it just in Australian culture?) We like to see the underdog get up.
I have this experience watching the footy, when my team’s not playing, then I always find myself going for the team that’s lower on the ladder.
(Unless that team is Collingwood. I always enjoy watching Collingwood lose.)
I wonder why that is. Maybe we’ve just seen so many ‘triumph against impossible odds’ films, that it’s a narrative we feel comfortable with.
Or maybe that it’s because we identify with the underdog. In our disempowered lives (poor us!), we relate to underdog characters and enjoy watching them get up.
And while it might sell well to our supporters / potential voters, I think there’s a danger in taking this position.
“You’re the underdog?” I said.
“You’re the underdog?” I said, making him say it again.
“So I’m top dog then?”
“Um…” I think he’d cottoned on to where I was going with this at this point.
“Right. That’s cool. Let’s just hold that image in our minds for a bit. You’re the underdog. I’m topdog.
You’re like a little yappy shih-tzu, and I’m like a wolf. And you’re all ‘yip, yip, yip, I’m going to take you down topdog’, while I’m just sitting here in my power – in the confidence that comes with topdog status, waiting for my moment to put you back in your place.
You’re a corgie. I’m an Alsatian.
You’re a weiner. I’m a Great Dane.
That’s what you’re saying right? That’s cool. I can work with that.”
And because I can be a bit of a prick like that, I kept rubbing his nose in it. “Nice shot, underdog.” “In the bunker again? Unlucky underdog.”
And his game never got its mojo back. Once he had taken on an inferior status, he couldn’t get rid of it, unless I gave it to him or he won it back from me.
But winning is much harder when you’re coming from a self-imposed position of inferiority and weakness.
We use the dog metaphor in English language (other languages too?) because dog packs have a very clear hierarchy. There’s a top dog, who enjoys all the benefits of superior status, and there’s underdogs.
I once heard a story about a guy out in the Australian bush, who came across a pack of wild dogs. And so he identified which dog was top dog, and then took that dog on in hand to hand combat. Once he killed the dog, he was now top dog in the pack, and the pack was his.
(I don’t know why he wanted a pack of dogs. I think stuff like that just goes on in the bush.)
Dogs aren’t the only species to have such hierarchies. Most pack-animals do… including humans.
A lot of human dominance play goes under the radar. Think of the court judge sitting up high looking down on everyone. Think about policemen and their unnecessarily big hats.
Think about banks and their massive Greco-columns.
Institutions of authority are big on these subtle displays of power. Because they want you to feel inferior and weak. If you’re inferior and weak you won’t be so uppity.
(But here’s a movie about an underdog who wins – so you can feel good about yourself. Yay.)
Underdog is NOT a winning mindset.
If you want to achieve great things, do not imagine yourself as a yappy loser-dog. Don’t even take on the language.
What we say matters. It changes the way we think. It changes the way we behave.
Don’t imagine yourself as the loser guy waiting on miracles to make things happen. See yourself as a powerful man or woman, using your power wisely and graciously to achieve great things.
THAT is a winning mindset.
It’s like my friend who has a bakery. He’s having some dispute with his landlord. And so he says he’s “going to war.”
Going to war might be sexy, and kind of inspiring, but people get killed in wars. Better to say, “I’m going to the dry-cleaners to do my washing. I will sort my whites from my coloureds and be home in a few hours when the job is done.”
“No, don’t cry woman. It’s something I have to do.”
Don’t make out challenges to be greater than they are just so you can enjoy the righteous smugness of being the underdog. If you make challenges out to be greater than they are, you will make them challenges greater than they are.
Everyone wants to be the underdog. Let them. Be top dog and enjoy your life.
What do you reckon? Why do we love underdogs so much?