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Today we are going back to late February, 1969. We are visiting San Quentin Prison with Johnny Cash and the Johnny Cash Show. While Johnny Cash is the headliner, the Carter Family, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and June Carter also perform. The show is well received by the inmates, and is recorded.

A record is released June 16, 1969, and the show is televised in England. Just after the release of the record, I came into the world. Perhaps coincidence, but significant to me. Of course the two are not important to others, but they are to me. This will be discussed after seven tools of winning well are considered.

What is important about these tools, is that defeat is never required. None of these require physical training. They are all mindsets. They are all available, to everyone, at any point in time.


At any point in time, we have the ability to step back and observe. Not only the actions of others, but of ourselves. Not only the environment, but our reactions to that environment. The first tool for winning well is observation.


We all have perspective. Rarely are we holders of the only truth. Rarely do we see things “as they are”, and how we perceive situations and others is as much defined by our viewpoint as reality. Perspective is a tool, but only because we must realize it, and not assume the only way we see things are fact.


Humility is such a funny thing. Should we ever receive a reward for humility and accept it, we lose the right to receive it.

What we need to understand most, is that any victory we may achieve, is due to so many factors outside of ourselves that it is never ours alone. Humility is not the absence of pride, but it is an awareness and a gratitude, of and for, the big picture.


Winning well is contingent on how we are in all facets of our living. Often, character is developed by how we react to the fact that we may have won.

It is also developed by our failures. Character is not changed by the outcome of any circumstance or situation.


Compassion means we strive for the best for ourselves, always with the intent of the best for others also. It is the inward reaction to those who struggle to find purpose and truth in their own way.

Without compassion, victory is hollow and unfulfilling. Often, it means reaching with one hand towards a goal and reaching for others as we go.


Regardless of how we come to believe, belief is important to winning well. Often, the belief that we can win, or create goodness in the world, is what allows us to do so. Without the belief that a positive solution exists, positive solutions are often missed completely. Without the belief that winning well is a very real possibility, winning well is not attempted.


Nothing substitutes for effort. Even if effort occupies only 20 minutes of our day. Even if effort is only the creation of more possibilities than now exist. Effort is what makes the difference in winning well and winning poorly. Again, effort might even make the difference in whether we win at all.

Now back to San Quentin. Back to the rowdy crowd and the irreverent jokes. The guitars and the singing. All of the entertainment for only entertainment’s sake, and the facing of facts.

When Johnny Cash was asked to pose for a picture for the warden, he famously chose to give the middle finger as an offering for the lens. The photo was not famous until some years later. It gained publicity after it was posted in a Nashville newspaper in 1998.

Johnny Cash, one of the founders of what country music had become, found himself without the support of country radio. Country radio, was enamored by the likes of Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, and every other artist that sounded less like country, and more like pop music. Johnny Cash also happened to win a Grammy that year, for best album of the year, with “American IV: The Man Comes Around”.

Rick Rubin (the albums producer) posted the ad, with a snarky “thank you”, to the radio stations in Nashville, and by extension, all of the Nashville music scene. Great publicity. Great response. Personally, I believe it was appropriate.

What is important about the response, and the ad, and the sentiment, is that it was not directed to anyone that was defeated. Johnny Cash had just won a Grammy, but it was not a jab at the other nominees. The sentiment was expressed to those who criticized, backbit, and discounted Johnny Cash, who truly is a legend, if there ever was one, in this modern age.

Fast forward to 2020. Please consider this. We may possess all of the seven tools for winning well, but we may not be appreciated. While the seven tools are very “doable”, it takes a special person to honor them every day. None of us will nail all of them, some of us will be better than others.

The recommendation is not take out a $20,000 ad in a newspaper. But, with all sincerity, my advice is, with all love and peace, feel free to give those that criticize you the middle finger in your mind.

If we react to criticism, and do not stay true to our character, we are defined by others. And for the love of all that is holy, we should be defined by those that want to help rather than those who just gripe and complain.

Concluding Thoughts

Also, I will conclude by saying, after all of this talk about winning, it should be noted that winning is the ultimate illusion. Yes, there are win columns and loss columns.

Yes, we want to believe we have accomplished something better than others. But, the battles are fought in the mind, and the celebrations of victories outside of the mind are exercises in illusion.

Be you. Be what you believe is true. Understand that you come from Light, and that you are working your own dharma, or story. And take the time, like Johnny Cash, to live out that story in every imperfect way that is necessary.

Whether you give haters the bird in your mind, or whether you simply dismiss random criticism, stand for something.

If you see another who has fallen, help them up. Never working towards the defeat of others, but only for the victories you might achieve. Winning is easy when it is just a mindset. Winning well means everyone wins.

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Author: Kevin Thompson

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