Monday, February 4, 2013

To Dare to Win, Most of the Time We Lose

Defeat (noun) 1. a setback; an overthrow or overturning; vanquishment; the act or event of being bested or losing  
 --Random House Dictionary


I listened for that chant after yesterday's Super Bowl defeat of the San Francisco 49’ers by the Baltimore Ravens but of course, it was not to be heard.  In our culture, losers are very quickly forgotten in the seconds after a competition ends and the winner is gloriously crowned for all the world to see and cheer. The winning team struts on national TV, dances in the confetti, hoists high in triumph the victory trophy. I’M GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!  The losing team sits forlorn and depressed on the bench, heads hung low, tears shed, mere spectators on the sidelines of life now.  We’re going back into the locker room.

Because they lost. They’re “losers”, right? That most cruel of monikers.  Sad sacks.  Also rans.  Failures.  No “W”, just a big capital “D”.

Doesn’t matter where the defeat happens, the narrative is the same on the field, at the ballot box, and in the marketplace. Losers are an afterthought in our winner takes all world, asterisks in the history books. “Who did Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeat in his four runs for President?” Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie and Thomas Dewey.  Who?! What teams lost to the New York Yankees in a record five World Series from 1949 to 1953? The Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers--three times!  The bums! Who failed to patent the telephone and lost out to Alexander Graham Bell by just a few hours? Elisha Gray.  Wrong number.

Losers are easily dismissed and yet: is it always so bad to lose?  To be defeated?  To compete fairly and squarely and fully but still come up on the short end of the score?  Such questions are heretical when everything feels like a never ending competition, and not just in sports. 

Politics is now as much about strategy as policy. Who’s on top in the perpetual Washington tug of war, Obama or Boehner?  We watch them not so much for substance as to gleefully wait for our opponent to crash and burn.  TV drowns in tales of winners and losers: “Top Chef”, “Biggest Loser”,” American Idol”, “The Voice”. Too many children and youth grow up in a sports addicted culture, pushed to win from the moment they are old enough to walk and lace up and take to the playing fields. Ever watch the competition crazed parents on Saturday sidelines, who yell themselves hoarse, all so their tiny tots can be number one? 

This universal clamoring for victory denies one great human truth.  Much, even most of the time in life, we will lose and not win.  We will swing mightily for the fences and miss the ball more often than we connect.  We will strive and fall short before the finish line. That’s what it means to be alive and to have a heartbeat and to try. Sometimes, a majority of the time even, we will lose.  No way around this reality.

We apply for twenty jobs and get just one.  We romance a datebook full of possibilities but fall in love just once or twice. We dream of a hole in one but then whack that little ball into the water.  Even Adam and Eve, offered the ultimate prize by God in the Garden of Eden, make the wrong choice and lose, get booted out of paradise. The spiritual DNA to win may be in our bones but losing is right in our marrow too. 

So here’s a shout out to all the losers in this life, who don’t make the front page or win the gold.  The ones who compete and fall short, but do not cheat or cut corners in that endeavor.  They lose well. The folks in second place who congratulate their victorious opponents with grace and then walk off the field with heads held high. They know defeat but do not crumble. To the courageous folks who get out every day and live and try their best to raise a family, to work at a job, and to make the world a better place.  There is always tomorrow and the chance to begin again.

Some rare days we win. Many days we lose.  That’s a final score we cannot ignore.

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