The Importance of Coming in Second

Daniel T. Weaver

Although there have been some efforts to alter our society in recent years, the United States is still a nation that values competition. Whether in sports, politics, the arts or scientific achievement, emphasis is placed on coming in first. That is as it should be.

However, we do not value enough the person who comes in second. While many of us can name all of our presidents, only a few can name the candidates who came in second, names like William H. Crawford, Hugh Lawson White and Alton B. Parker. We often refer to these men and women as losers.

AltonBParker
Alton B. Parker of Cortland, NY

The individual who comes in first in a political race or a foot race understands the value of coming in second, even if he or she doesn’t acknowledge it. First place runners know that the pressure exerted on them by second place runners is an impetus that makes them run faster and cross the finish line first.

People who come in second value placing second because it helps prepare them for the next race. They learn from their mistakes and from their opponent’s victory.

Coming in second can be a monumental victory in its own right and sometimes the second place person overshadows the victor. While Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole first, the courage and heroism of Robert Falcon Scott and his men is the stuff that drama is made of.

Scott and four other men reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912 only to find that Amundsen and his crew had reached it 34 days earlier. Scott and his men perished on the return trip. Scott kept a journal which has been a primary source for several biographies of Scott and the film, Scott of the Antarctic (1948). Because of the heroic bravery of Scott and his crew and his ability to keep a record of their trip and tragedy, Amundsen faded into the background.

Understanding the value of coming in second is not to denigrate the importance of coming in first. Nor is it meant to disparage competition. In many areas of life, competition is essential, and the drive to be number one is honorable. Many of the world’s greatest achievement occurred because men and women were committed to being first in their field.

The movement to eliminate the honor of being valedictorian or salutatorian in high schools is not a good one. Competition might be a value that is rated too highly at times. Sometimes we need to focus on cooperation rather than competition. Nevertheless, striving to be number one, while not downplaying the importance of those who come in second, seems to be the best way to maximize human achievement.

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