It happens in sports. It happens in politics. It happens in entertainment and in the everyday "real world." People win things, and people lose things, just as it has always been.
The only difference now is that old saying “it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game,” has changed to “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how much attention you get after the event.”
I’m not going pick on any particular athletes or politicians in the public eye here, although anyone who has followed the news, sports, or pop culture for the past few years has seen a decrease in the fine art of losing gracefully.
Therefore, I am going to briefly share a few of life’s unfortunate truths that I myself had to learn at a young age.
You are not going to win all the time. It is also quite possible that you will lose much, much, more than you win.
When this losing occurs, it may not always be fair. A referee or umpire might show some favoritism to the other team or player. A panel of judges might have a pre-set idea of whom they want to see win a contest. Sometimes, you might be having one of those days where your best just doesn’t show.
And yet, other times, there is that nearly impossible-to-comprehend circumstance that you weren’t the best competitor of the day. Yes, it can happen. Someone else may be better than you at a skill.
In sports, there is going to be a time when, no matter how much you are loved by fans or how many games, matches, races, etc. you’ve won in the past, someone else is going to come along who is faster, more skilled or, Heaven forbid, younger than you. They also want to win.
In performing arts, someone may be a better dancer, actor, singer, or musician. These talents may have nothing to do with their age, race, gender, or even weight. They just might present their talents better.
Last, but not least, in politics, it might not matter how much you spent on your election be it a small town election or one in the national forefront, nor how much you “really, really want this win,” there is a possibility you won’t get elected. People will vote for “that other candidate,” as is their right. You might feel they are ill informed, but they are still the ones pulling the lever or punching chads.
Now, here’s where the test of integrity and grace come in. Do you begrudgingly accept the outcome, and look forward to your next step in life thinking, "What can I do to be better next time?" Do you begin to make excuses, scream at the sky, and call everyone a bad name for not handing you the victory?
Sadly, not enough of us pick the first option.
Part of the reason so many people grow up with this perception may be due to the the misplaced good intentions of the “Participation Trophy” generation. When I was growing up, the only time I saw participation trophies and ribbons awarded was with our school’s special needs class. These were well-deserved as well, because I never saw a group of kids so happy to be part of a game, with each competitor giving everything they had to the event.
Later, someone somewhere didn’t want to see any child shed a tear over a lost game (I know, it's heartbreaking to watch), or missing out on the big science fair ribbon. They also didn’t want to face the wrath of an angry stage parent, youth sports “sideline coaches,” and helicopter moms and dads whose kids are so overwhelmingly talented at what they do, it is an travesty when others don’t see that fact. The whole system must be rigged.
Look at those televised singing competitions and at the weepy, sniveling fits thrown by someone who finally, for the first time in their life had to face the fact they weren’t as good a singer as Mommy and Daddy told them they were. You aren’t going to win a vocal contest because “it’s your dream,” you’re going to win because you were the best singer.
I was a sore loser as well when I was in grade school if I didn’t win an event, get selected for a squad or club, or get that top-of-the-class certificate. I remember coming home one day when I didn’t win, of all things, an art competition. I was devastated. How did that stupid yarn art unicorn that looked like a pig beat my detailed watercolor of Cloud City? Was it because the crappy unicorn-maker was the daughter of one of the teachers…who was best friends with the P.T.A. president...who just happened to be judging the event? Yes! Everyone sucks, and it was all favoritism! I demanded justice.
So, I went home and told my parents as much. My dad gave me a hug, told me he knew I was a good artist, then sat me down, and talked to me in bluntly.
“You lost,” he said. “Accept it. Do better next time, and be appreciative you got to show off your work to others.”
And that was that. I was still upset but it was fading fast. After the competition, I took my work home and hung it in my room.
If my dad had gone stomping into the school letting everyone know how biased their competition was, and demanding they give me a little printed satin ribbon, I might have felt falsely vindicated, but I would never have gained the resolve to improve my own abilities through practice.
There were many more losses, and a few appreciated wins, still ahead in my future, yet the only way I could fully understand how good it felt to win was to know what it was like to lose.
This is something we all have to remember, no matter what field or passion we pursue in life. Just because we don’t win a particular event isn’t the major factor on how we reflect as a person to others.
How we react to that defeat is the key. We don’t have to jump up and down and celebrate someone else’s victory over ours, but we can quietly and gracefully let them have their moment. If they don’t deserve that moment (in the opinion of the one being defeated), then it is up to that person to show everyone who the better person is. Be humble. Be gracious, and come back next time with a big win!
It is okay to get upset over a hard-fought battle slipping out of our grasp, and yes, there are many good athletes or performers who have been visibly upset by a defeat without it interfering with the celebration of the champion at the moment.
Not everyone can be “the champion” but a game well-played, an election well-run, or a performing arts competition leaving everyone happy with the show, can give all of us involved a sense of accomplishment, trophy or not.
However, if we whine, pitch public fits and blame everyone but ourselves for not winning, then, and only then, do we truly act like losers.