Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Art of Losing

Lauren kicked my butt at Battleship last night.

It was a quality win for her, as I have long since stopped going easy on the girls in games like this. When they win, they win for real. And when they lose, they learn how to lose.

This is a skill that is not valued highly enough these days.

We don’t really know how to lose anymore, and that’s a shame. Most of us will lose most of the time, pretty much by definition. There can only be one winner, after all, and statistically the odds are that it isn't going to be you.  Sometimes you beat those odds - enjoy it while it lasts.  Most times, no.

But there’s an art to losing graciously, to acknowledging that you did the best you could and still came up short, to accepting the fact that you are not the top dog this time and still seeing the good in that – the lessons learned, the experience of the contest, the fact that your opponent is not your enemy and that maybe you can learn some things from them, that maybe next time it will be the other guys learning those lessons from you. More to the point, there is the idea that there is a life outside of whatever battle you just fought and the results should be viewed in that context.

We place such an emphasis on winning in American culture that we forget how to lose with grace.

One of the lessons I hit pretty hard in my American history class is the response of the Anti-Federalists to the eventual ratification of the Constitution in 1788. The Anti-Federalists campaigned hard against the new Constitution. They feared its centralizing tendencies. They worried about what would become of the states in a new system that clearly privileged the rights of the national government over those of those of the states. They thought the Articles of Confederation, the first blueprint for the government of the United States, was fine the way it was or at worst needed only a few minor changes.

They lost.

And at that point they had a choice. They could have continued their opposition, ratcheting up the rhetoric (and believe me, as eighteenth-century gentlemen they had a command of destructive rhetoric that modern Americans can’t even grasp, let alone match) and doing their best to create gridlock in the new government. They could have done all they could think of to keep the Constitution from succeeding in order to prove that they should have won in the first place.

But they didn’t. They accepted their loss with grace, most of them, and they worked to make the new system succeed despite what they regarded as its flaws. And we are all better off for it. Imagine if our current leaders had learned this lesson when they were children playing games.

As a parent, one of the most valuable lessons you can teach your children is how to lose with grace. If they can master that, they’ll be better winners.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Your piece reminded me of a distinguished Toastmaster I know. He probably has a couple of hundred speeches under his belt. He has competed at Europe-wide contests. Yet, when someone evaluates his speech,he never talks back or comments. If we are right, he knows we are right. If we are wrong, he doesn't need to tell us.