Men are born to succeed, not to fail.    Henry David Thoreau

Born to Win

It is February 15 of this year and I’m kneeling beside a bathtub that is filled with bubbles and my granddaughter, Lucy.   My wife, Anita, and I are on a mission to spend time with our two grandchildren as we await the arrival of our third, a boy we are told.   I am in Folsom, California, a lovely and historic town which quaintly and successfully lives down its less bucolic reputation as the home of the prison that spawned one of Johnny Cash’s greatest hits.

Actually, I can see a slight corner of the prison grounds as I ponder the ruggedly beautiful landscape that blankets most of northern California.  No sign of disquiet from the prison’s existence seems to affect this comfortable community, but its visual presence brings to mind a consideration of its inhabitants.  Men who, in one way or another, have destroyed or have been destroyed through evil intent and warped perception of themselves and the world in which they grew and were misshaped.

But back to the business at hand, a two year old’s bubble bath.  As she scrapes a handful of bubbles over my nose and giggles, a striking thought stuns and engages me.  Looking into her glowing, innocent, and thoroughly happy little face, I see perfection.  This 38” little being has no sense of personal diminishment.  She harbors no idea of guilt about anything, She has never failed at anything; she has only tried maneuvers, experimented with objects, and repeated words and sounds as she inventories and expands her lexicon.   Foolishly, we adults refer to these activities as “play.”  It is more than that.  It is research, wonder, and enjoyment all packaged together in her small world of inquiry and investigation.

So immediately in front of me is perfect joy; out the window two or three miles away is misery and self-inflicted perdition.  As perfect as my little granddaughter acts and appears, there must also have been times in the life of those inmates at Folsom prison that were similar to hers.  What happened?  How did they take such a tragic detour?

Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward, co-authored a textbook on Transactional Analysis.  They titled their seminal work, Born to Win.  The book’s cover reveals a little girl standing on a shore, her toes washed by an ebbing wavelet.  Her arms are stretched wide.  She is the picture of happiness and good feeling.  My little granddaughter, Lucy, could have been the model for the book cover.

The cover of their book perfectly reflects both the work’s title and its message, that all of us were literally “born to win.”  Their message and meaning is that simple.  As I looked through Lucy’s little curls and onto the prison’s wall and turret, I wonder if the optimistic message of the book’s title applies to that institution’s angry and malevolent inhabitants.  Sadly, I must admit that I believe it only in theory.  It is for other caring professionals to try to re-claim some of those lost, alienated, and dispirited souls.  If it is possible for those tortured and torturing souls to yet “win,” it will depend upon the good offices of others to facilitate that redemption.

The mission of my wife and me along with her parents and the rest of the family is to see to it that my little “bubble scraper” and her two brothers retain the message of Born to Win.

Homework:  All of us fall somewhere between prison inmates and innocent toddlers in terms of our sense of self.  We rank somewhere between defeated, imprisoned souls and naïve, gleeful spirits like Lucy.  The task?  Simply recognize and accept what you were meant to be and move back toward it.  We were all born to be winners.

The simple act of appreciating our true nature will allow us to return to it.