Why We Love the Underdog

By admin / October 21, 2010
By: Dave Tomlinson
Category: Motivation

In the Australian culture that I live in there is a great affinity and love for the underdog. When otherwise impartial, we passionately support the team or individual that is less favoured to win. It’s an important part of who we are and an intrinsic part of our lifestyle. So it’s little wonder then, that the movie The Castle became so loved in this country.

The Castle tells the story of the Kerrigans, a working class family in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. They live directly adjacent to the airport and although it’s a modest house constantly in the flight path, it is literally their castle. When the airport wants to expand their home becomes the subject of a compulsory acquisition order. Led by husband and father Daryl Kerrigan, the family decide to fight to keep their home. The case goes to the High Court and it becomes a ‘Daryl versus Goliath’ battle.

The Kerrigans win the affection of everyone because although they are naïve and uneducated, they stand up for what they believe in. They are up against smug and clever lawyers and judges but fight to keep what is theirs. The film pokes fun at the average working class Australian but at the same time it portrays them as heroes. They were the underdog fighting with courage and eventually prevailing.

In a recent poll, Australians were asked to vote which movie character they feel best represents the nation. The winner was Darryl Kerrigan because he captures the spirit of the ‘Aussie battler’ that we can all identify with. His down to earth attitude, love for his family and memorable quotes means that his character continues to strike a chord with people. So much so that he was voted ahead of the iconic Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee in the survey.

For a movie that was filmed in 11 days on a budget of approximately $19,000, it made a huge impact. The ‘Aussie battler’ has become a firm part of our identity; we love the small guy. As authors Michael Page & Robert Inapen wrote: “The true Aussie battler and his wife thrust doggedly onwards: starting again, failing again; implacably thrusting towards success. For success, even if it is only the success of knowing that one has tried to the utmost and never surrendered, is the target of every battler.”

So, why is there such appeal, especially for Australians, in supporting the underdog? Researchers have found that those who are seen as disadvantaged or without equal opportunity arouse people’s sense of fairness and justice. These are very important principles the most people love to see being upheld. People also generally believe that underdogs put more effort into what they do, often just to achieve the same as the top-dogs.

Support for the underdog runs very deep into Australian history and folklore. From the fabled last stand of Ned Kelly through to the soldiers in the World War I battle of Gallipoli, we have always seen them as courageous and heroic. It matters not that Kelly was an outlaw or that Gallipoli was a military failure. We remember and celebrate that these men were fighting against all odds. In our hearts, the spirit of their deeds will live on forever.

Many Australians define success by attitude rather than ability or outcome. This may be a legacy of the early convicts who didn’t have any hope of winning, but developed an attitude that they hadn’t lost until the very end. Some have speculated that our support for the underdog originates from the harsh environment we live in. Through the years, farmers have been punished by droughts, bushfires and flooding. At times they appear to have little hope against the power of nature but no matter what, they always give their best.

Another curious thing about the Australian culture is that our love for the underdog extends beyond our own nationality, race and social class. This is especially true in the sporting arena where we are happy to admire and applaud a fighting performance from an underdog, whoever that team or individual is. When the all conquering Australian cricket team was dominating world cricket, the batsman from other nations who stood up bravely and punished our bowlers, did so to great admiration. In the 2003 World Cup, there was huge crowd support for teams who had little or no hope of winning.

An unforgettable moment of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games came when Eric ‘The Eel’ Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea competed in the 100m freestyle heat. His time was more than twice that the competitors but he set a new personal best and national record. Most of the people watching in the stands were better swimmers than Eric but they wildly cheered his every stroke as if he was about to win a gold medal. He became famous around the world and left Australia as a folk hero.

At the end of the day, there is nothing uniquely Australian about supporting the underdog. We’ve seen it played out in numerous Hollywood movies and it’s the reason why the Die Hard trilogy was so hugely popular. The difference between Hollywood and real-life Australia is that support for the underdog isn’t conditional on victory. Providing they have given their all and not surrendered, they are still considered a success. Again, I’m sure this is true in many other cultures around the world.

So, what influence does celebrating the underdog have for our daily lives? In a nutshell, it encourages the underdogs to believe in themselves and have an attempt at something. Most people in society can be regarded as underdogs so this mentality has a very motivating effect on everyone. In the sporting arena, Australians always believe they have a chance of winning and strive for victory. This has resulted in them becoming one of the best sporting nations on earth but the same attitude can also be seen in politics, business and the entertainment industry.

When it comes to creating wealth, we find ourselves pitted against established businesses and large corporations. We are all underdogs in this respect. But the evolution of the internet has opened the way for the little guy to create something for himself. Technology has levelled the playing field when it comes to creating wealth. It offers the opportunity to overcome the odds, gain a great lifestyle and the admiration of everyone around you. It’s a competitive environment but as we’ve seen, it’s one that the underdog thrives in.

If you accept the challenge in the true spirit of the underdog, you are a winner before you’ve even started. There are numerous examples throughout history of the underdog prevailing. Some of the greatest military battles were won against all odds and many of sports most glorious moments have seen the less favoured team or individual win. It is the essence of life itself and proof that the race isn’t always to the swiftest, the battle to the strongest nor riches to men of understanding.

Embrace exciting opportunities that you find and believe in yourself. If I can complete the biblical reference from above, it reads that favour isn’t always to men of skill because time and chance happens to all. Let this be your inspiration to create something special and live life just as God himself intended.

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