Win if you can – a family proverb

JC: “The proverb is, ‘Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.’ And I believe this was something that was said by a television character, but it had become–my father had adopted it as a life philosophy, ironically, because, while he and his father had their… tensions, at the very least, they are both stern moralizers, and so the idea that either of them would sanction any kind of cheating was inherently ludicrous. My grandfather was a by-the-books Marine; my father, while not that, was certainly not, like, a person without rules that you had to abide by. I think it might have been some sort of wrestling thing though?”

Background: JC and his family are all from Ohio. He learned this proverb from his father. On its own, the content of the proverb is not particularly significant, but the context of it and the inversion of its meaning are; they reflect the strong moral compass of his father, along with a dry, deadpan sense of humor.


The proverb itself, upon further inquiry, has been attributed to various pro wrestlers, notably Jesse Ventura. He performed as a heel, deliberately playing as a villainous character meant to attract viewers’ ire. And just as Ventura the man was certainly not the villain that Ventura the wrestling performer was, JC’s father’s actual beliefs are nothing like this proverb would suggest if taken at face value.

The concept of an inverted proverb as a sort of parody of a family motto also has been passed down. My own family has said that our motto is “If you fall behind, you get left behind,” lifted from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The actual quote from the movie, as part of the fictional Pirates’ Code, is “any man who falls behind, is left behind.” Again, this is an entirely ironic adoptation of a proverb–just as JC’s father was the type of man to never cheat, my own family would never leave one of our own behind. In both cases, the proverb is acknowledged to be words not to live by.