[February 27, 2020] My family was glued to the television as we watched the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeat the Soviet Union team in the semifinals at the 1980 Winter Games. My brother and I were cheering for “our” hockey team. We didn’t know anything about ice hockey (being from the Deep South) but that didn’t matter. We all love an underdog; win or lose, we are on their side.
“The American dream is everybody has a chance, and if you find that the underdogs don’t have a chance, it kinda pokes holes in that dream.” – Ed Ayers, American historian
Part of the American dream is that everyone has a fair chance to succeed, and anyone who doesn’t, we can somehow relate to them. Historian Ed Ayers had it right when he made this quote. Dr. Ayers sees something that all of us have inside us, and that is an inherent understanding of fairness and fair play.
People hate cheating, and we don’t like it when a cheater wins, or the game is somehow unfair. These ideals align with our American Core Values, and I wrote a three-part series a few years ago (the series can be found here, here, and here.) While there may be vast political differences among Americans or between people across many cultures, one thing that remains constant is that we all identify with and love the underdog.
I’m reminded of a rafting race on the Ruhr River in what was West Germany back in 1975. Near the city of Lünen, the German Army sponsored a major rafting competition that pitted their Special Forces1 teams against all comers, civilian and military. My Army unit entered seven Privates (I was among them) to show that we were participants but had no possibility of winning. After the race, everyone was shocked to hear that our pitiful rafting team had won. We were the epitome of an underdog team.
Stories abound of underdogs like that of Cinderella in The Little Glass Slipper, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the Tortoise in The Tortoise and the Hare, and in the many “rags to riches” accounts of famous people like Charles Dickens (writer), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Walt Disney (cartoonist), and Oprah Winfrey (television personality). These are what Dr. Jordan Peterson would call meta-stories, those narratives that have risen to the top to capture everyday shared experiences, knowledge, and meaning of a grand idea or purpose.
Underdogs have a special place in our hearts. From stories to real-life experience, we have all seen the underdogs win and lose. They have become symbols of our lives and the desire to impart fairness and honor upon them.
- Kommando Spezialkräfte – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kommando_Spezialkräfte