By Dr Rajan Philips — In around 1000 BC a young lad, representing his country, took up the challenge of a one-on-one combat with a seasoned Philistine warrior who stood over 9 feet. The lad vanquished and killed the contemptuous giant with a stone hurled from his slingshot. That in a nutshell is the famous story of David and Goliath that has contributed an expression to the English language as an endorsement of an underdog.
An underdog is a person or group, which under normal circumstances is expected to lose in life situations or a contest, usually in sports. However, if the underdog wins, beating the heavy odds, the joy experienced is immense.
It is but apt that we have a day of the year, 13th December, designated as Underdog Day, to honour the world’s unsung heroes and heroines who emerge unlikely winners in different spheres of life. The day was established by Peter Moeller in 1976.
Interestingly, originally, a worker in shipbuilding process, who stood in a dark pit and helped to saw planks of wood from beneath and got covered in dirt and sawdust, was called the underdog. The other one, the ‘overdog’, sawed the planks from above. Soon the underdog became covered in dirt and sawdust, but got very little credit for all his gruelling work. Sadly, even today, a vast majority of us carry out demanding tasks but receive very little recognition.
Some celebrate the ‘Underdog Day’ by watching with friends, movies starring famous underdogs. Some hold a costume party where they dress up as famous underdogs like Batman’s Robin, Robinson Crusoe’s Man Friday, Forrest Gumpor Kung Fu Panda.
Common folks often admire an underdog who battles bravely in the game of life as he is a more likely role model and source of inspiration than a super-hero.
An underdog strives against adversity and heavy odds without the many advantages his opponent, the favourite, may possess. When such a person becomes a winner, he deserves our unreserved respect and admiration.
The journalist writer Malcolm Gladwell highlights a few key qualities of an underdog in his book ‘David and Goliath’. An underdog maintains an honourable reputation, plays by the rules, does everything in person, possesses grit, courage and determination. He is passionate and empathetic, a good team leader and takes care to build and nurture sound inter-personal relationships at the workplace.
The more common reference to the underdog comes in different forms of sports. It is definitely more thrilling when a less fancied team or athlete wins shattering a predictable pattern.
In literature, we have plenty of colourful characters who don the mantle of the underdog, like Robin in Batman, Watson in Sherlock Holmes stories or Cinderella in the fairy tales. In movies, characters like Forest Gump and Karate Kid fascinate us. They complement the super-heroes.
In contemporary times, we have the inspiring examples of daring entrepreneurs like Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg, or entertainers like YouTube sensation Justin Bieber. In 2008 US elections, both Barack Obama and John McCain referred to themselves as underdogs!
Our identification with a successful underdog is born of an inherent belief that each one of us has unique qualities and talents that must find expression.
As a motivational speaker puts it, ‘you should believe that ‘every “no” you hear, every door that gets shut on your goal, you are one step closer to achieving that goal.’
Incredible feats of ‘Davids’ in this world give us, common folks who feel we are underdogs, the hope and determination to overcome all hurdles, and achieve true success.
► Even when I’m the underdog, I still prepare a victory speech. — H Jackson Brown, Jr We grew up learning to cheer on the underdog because we saw ourselves in them. — Shane Koyczan
► When you’re an underdog, you’re forced to try things you would never otherwise have attempted.
— Malcolm Gladwell