I’ve been adulting for a quarter of a century now.
As someone raised in a very politically engaged family, though, I’ve been politicking for even longer. By the time I had civics in high school, my political views were firmly planted. I knew everything I needed to know and my beliefs were facts.
I’ve since learned much more about myself and how the world works. I’ve learned that our ignorance doesn’t so much lie in what we know but rather in what we don’t know.
My biggest political mistake was not considering what I didn’t know, or that the opposite of what I know could also be true.
With this engagement and hindsight that I can say that in my lifetime each successive presidential election has been increasingly divisive. I’ve also noticed that the loser loses harder with each successive presidential election. This is true with both parties, as evidenced by the last five elections.
I don’t discount voters’ emotions and passions. I’m concerned about how our growing inability to learn how to lose with grace affects our national dialogue, our ability to work with differing political parties, and our progress as a country.
Since the most recent election, I’ve thought a lot about positive responses to losing. Below are three ways to learn how to lose that, to my mind, would improve our national dialogue, our ability to work together, and our progress.
Make a statement, not noise.
When I think of examples of recent leaders who set the benchmark for clear messages, I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Harvey Milk.
They both came to prominence at a time of great political and violent upheaval for their respective causes.
During the Civil Rights and Vietnam War Era, Dr. King advocated non-violent resistance. He famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Milk surprisingly encouraged talking. The most pain Milk wanted to inflict was for LGBT people to come out to friends, family, and colleagues.
He argued, “I know that it is hard and will hurt them, but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth!” Lasting change happens in the voting booth and it’s hard, though not impossible, to vote against people who know and love you.
Rioting, name calling, the burning of effigies, fighting, and all other forms of violent behavior do nothing to win the hearts and minds of the opposing side. Such acts simply make people stand more firm in their existing beliefs and make voters in the middle of the road sympathetic to those being attacked. This noise does not serve the long-term cause.
As activists, Dr. King and Milk set the bar for making statements rather than noise.
How to lose like a winner.
Our culture has enough sore losers. We rather need more people who win when they lose.
In 1965, a boy was born in England to West Indian immigrants. By high school, he excelled in track and field. By the age of 20, he broke the British record for the 400 meters and broke it again two years later.
After winning several international titles, he was primed for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul Korea. Due to an injury, he had to back out of his race at the last minute. Determined to achieve Olympic glory, he had several surgeries to remedy his injury and continued his training.
By the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona Spain, he was ready. With good performances in the first round and quarter-finals for the 400 meters, success was his to grab. Halfway through the semi-final, his hamstring tore. This eliminated any chance of Olympic glory but for the fact that he will go down as one of history’s greatest losers.
I challenge you to watch this video of Derek Redmond triumph and not get emotional. As Redmond’s dreams crashed around him, he held his head high and set the bar for losing.
Redmond’s ability to be a good loser gave him the kind of Olympic glory few will ever overshadow.
For those who read my articles on Adulting, you know I’m a super-fan of the “transformational life coach” Lisa Nichols.
Most people know of Nichols by her appearance in The Secret. Nichols continues to inspire people to live bigger, better lives through her personal story, her gift of public speaking, and her many books.
Nichols grew up in the rough neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles and, as she claims, was a below average student. In much of her work, she shares that a teacher once advised that she “get a desk job.” Another told her she’s not a good writer, and yet another recommended that she “never ‘speak’ in public.”
Later in life, Nichols found herself a single mother living on government assistance. At her lowest point, she had only $12 in her bank account and couldn’t buy diapers for her baby.
Nichols is now a transformational speaker who commands six figures for speaking in public. She’s had seven books listed on the New York Times Best Seller’s List. She is one of only two African American women founders to have a publicly held company listed on the NASDAQ.
How does one go from seemingly having no opportunities to being a multimillionaire positively changing people’s lives? You learn how to lose better.
She looked internally to make herself bigger, better, smarter, and stronger. As she says, she “ate a daily dose of ‘humble pie’” to learn what she needed to learn to affect positive change in her life and thereby affect positive change in the lives of others.
By all accounts, Nichols could’ve claimed that she was disenfranchised by her teachers. She could’ve said the institutions were designed to work against her. She could’ve blamed her circumstance on the father of her child. She could’ve said she wasn’t smart enough or good enough.
Nichols could’ve chosen to stay on government assistance. She could’ve masked her pain in drugs and alcohol. She could’ve chosen a life of violence and anger.
She didn’t. She said, “How can I be better?” She made herself step up to the plate and scored a World Series grand slam in this game called life.
These four people, Dr. King, Milk, Redmond, and Nichols, all of whom could’ve lost hard chose to lose better. That, my friends, is how you lose like an adult.