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Occasionally, someone may be overheard saying, “This is a “dog-eat-dog world,” or “Nice guys finish last.” It sometimes seems that only the ruthless can survive, and that the weak-hearted are the losers.The ideas suggest that if a person succeeds, he or she has to be aggressive and push others around, while polite and less-aggressive people are likely to be losers.
Before writing off the chances of the “nice guys,” however, consideration should be given to determine the time and location of the finish line. A person may think he or she has crossed the finish line when in fact, the race is still in progress and no winner has been declared.
For example, I once saw a pro football player running for a sure touchdown, when in certainty of scoring, he spiked the ball five yards before he reached the goal line. Thinking he had finished first, he discovered he had not scored at all.
A second example occurred during the Pan Africa-USA International Track and Field Meet at Duke University’s Wallace Wade stadium in July 1971. The sensational Mirus Ifter of Ethiopia, running in the shadow of the better-known Kip Keino, and before 34,000 sweating fans, lost the 5,000-meter race because he forgot the last lap and stopped too soon, only to be disqualified.
Another example is of unscrupulous businessmen, CEOs or mobsters who may become wealthy and feel secure in their ill-gotten gain, and mistakenly flaunt their winners’ trophies, without realizing that the race of life is not over. They not only may end up behind bars or worse for fraud, theft, drug-dealing or racketeering, but they are deprived of the joy they might have expected.
Still another example is a community’s “man about town,” who chases several women while boasting of his conquests. In so doing he may bring ruin to the marriages and homes of others, as well as ruin to himself. His very appearance may betray his wild living, so that others see him as John Masefield said, “His face was filled with broken commandments.”
He has his admirers who idolize him, believing him to have finished as a winner, while in fact, he is a loser whose life may be filled with loneliness and insecurity. Has he finished first? Of course not!
There may be a woman in town who announces her intentions to reach the top and plots a course to achieve her goal. She makes her play for men whom she considers to be the leading men of society, social standing, popularity and financial circles. Whatever her methods in attracting the men, whether acceptable or not, she may manage to bring one to the marriage altar. She may give the outward appearance of finishing first by being well-housed, well-fed, well-clad, well-connected and even a leader in the community.
She may wear all of those prestigious facades and for which some people may sell their souls. But has she finished first? Does she have self-respect or the respect of her family, respect and affection of the community? Has she in fact won the race?
Look a little closer to determine who is a “nice guy.” The whole idea implies that human decency is a liability on the road to success. It is a fact that nice guys may be outdistanced and trampled in the scramble for life’s prizes. But many of those prizes are fleeting and better lost.
Jesus taught submission in a world that practiced domination. Jesus preached respect for each individual in a world where the weak were exploited. Jesus practiced love for all in a world dominated by hatred. On the cross, Jesus set forth the example of sacrifice in a world that glorified mastery of others.
I read a story of a Christian missionary who returned to America on the same ship with Teddy Roosevelt. As they came to shore, there were just a few friends to welcome the missionary, while there were several thousand people on hand to greet Mr. Roosevelt.
One of the missionary’s friends remarked, “You did not have nearly as many people to welcome you home as Mr. Roosevelt had.”
The missionary answered perceptively, “I’m not home yet.”
It takes insight to know the location of the finish line and patient faith to await its crossing.
Who crosses the finish line first should not concern any of us too much. What should concern us is the character of the contestant, the nature of the running and the prize sought.
When these things are in control, nice guys will always finish first.
Ray Hodge is a retired Baptist pastor living in Smithfield who can be reached at email@example.com.