Sunday, 5 February 2012

"Losers and no-hopers"

I recently got involved in an argument on a LinkedIn writers' group. Nothing unusual about that - social media do not encourage nuance or sympathy - but I thought the subject worth exploring a bit.

A man who I assume to be American (because, in the whole wide world, only some Americans, as far as I can see, use these terms freely to indicate contempt) started by saying he could not stand "losers and no-hopers" and could not understand why so many writers wrote about them. Before proceeding with a fairly nuanced discussion of this, I said he must dislike a lot of people, then. This produced an extraordinary, garbled, angry, almost tearful response in which he said my comments were meaningless and I seemed to be attacking him and his long-held views. Well, yes, I responded, I was. I hated the loose dismissal of people as losers or no-hopers. I found it arrogant, complacent and anti-Christian.

I am a Christian, but I probably made that point because this language of losers is so prevalent in America (when other use it, in Britain for example, it has a mannered, imported sound, as if the speaker is using the terms "High Noon" and "ballpark") and the vast majority of Americans are apparently Christians. Admittedly some logical people combine a winner-takes-all, loser-is-despicable philosophy with rejecting all religion, but somehow many combine vocal support for the man who said "Blessed are the peacemakers" and "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven" with aggressive and self-righteous materialism. Let me stress hard that this isn't an attack on America (the U.S.A.) or my many internet friends there!

What do the terms "no-hoper" and "loser" imply? The former is easier: it's someone with no reason for hope. So presumably a slave, a "lifer" in prison or a dying person is a no-hoper; but of course the phrase is used to imply that those who fail deserve to. From my point of view, of course, no-one can ever be a no-hoper. "Loser" seems to be used mainly with the same superficial thinking: someone is at the bottom of the heap, so (s)he deserves to be there. Just a little consideration of the disadvantages people may face in growing up completely contradicts this way of thought. It is not to deny freedom of choice to point out that if both parents are drug-addicts and petty criminals in a location famous for deprivation, you need extraordinary light or luck not to end up much the same, whereas a start in a prosperous area with loving and prosperous parents makes your path quite a lot easier - and that's just within one country.

There is a sense of the term "loser" that I have a degree of sympathy with. A fairly small number of people have entrenched psychological habits that lead to repeated failure. These can range from a lack of self-belief (based probably on early negative experiences) that leads people to be competent at lower levels, to be good subordinates, say, but given initiative, to give up too easily or to funk the big, risky decisions - or indeed, a gambler's addiction to risk that may bring a few big successes but is bound to lead to utter failure before long - to repeated reaction to any difficulty that it's impossible and unfair, leading to complaining while rejecting practical ways out of the problem. These behaviour patterns, particularly the last one, can be very frustrating for friends and colleagues - but like any addiction, they're horribly hard to break out of, and breaking out needs love and patient support along with inconvenient challenging.

And inconvenient challenging was what I was doing in questioning that talk about losers and no-hopers.


  1. Unfortunately, however, some people when challenged are inconvenienced to the extent that all they can respond with is vitriol. It is also a human condition to make a decision on something and refuse to change it, no matter what evidence there is

  2. Thanks, James. Your second comment links well with what I wrote under "Making Accidents Happen". It would be interesting to study what it is that enables people to change their minds.

    The first - to be fair, the guy stopped short of vitriol, though I have seen that on LinkedIn discussions. I've also seen it implied that if you're bothered by the gap between rich and poor getting ever wider, you must yourself be "a loser" - odd, since that would then include Bill Gates, George Soros and Bob Geldof. It was the tone of horrified, righteously offended puzzlement that flummoxed me. I understand how an unexpected challenge in a conversation in a pub or amongst holidaymakers, say, can throw someone enough off balance to bring an unreasonable response. But if you publish your views to the world, isn't it reasonable to expect someone to disagree or query them?

    Oh well, all part of life's rich tapestry (or a blot: the critics do not agree).