Friday, March 7, 2008
How a man handles losing shows a lot more about his character than how he handles winning. It's easy to be gracious in victory, but harder to show resolve in the face of defeat and disappointment.
Coping well with a tough loss and returning to fight another day has brought John McCain to the brink of the Republican nomination. On the Democrats' side, Hillary Clinton's chances at the White House may very well be reborn if the public approves of the way she handles her series of unexpected primary losses or crushed if we don't.
Either way, both candidates are being judged by how they handle defeat and what lessons they learn from losing. Learning from losses has benefited many in politics, sports and in life in general. Too few of us grow from being beaten, though, choosing instead to wallow in the bitterness of our failures.
Losing, whether it happens on the ball field, in the political arena or in the proverbial boardroom, tends to put a man down for good, especially when he expected to win. It's easier to lose when the other guy was simply better than you, but tougher to swallow when you're on the losing end of a judgment call or at the wrong end of an upset.
Unfortunately, dealing gracefully with defeat has never been my strong suit. That seems odd because as a young athlete, I lost pretty much all the time. Not only did my teams lose, but we tended to lose badly, often humiliatingly, in part due to the fact that my ability never matched my desire.
Losing a lot, however, does not make defeat any easier to handle and not being good enough to help your team only adds to the frustration. Whoever said "it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game" had clearly never seen me play the game or else he might have added a clause about people who play really hard, but are just plain awful.
Getting beaten pretty much always in a wide variety of sports did give me an unnatural ability to absorb punishment but still get back on the field. Desire may not trump talent, but tenacity, even in the face of foolish odds, has served me well throughout the rest of life.
My experience at losing often, but struggling on, has also given me enormous appreciation for people who come back from long odds. Whether it's McCain, whose political future looked bleak a few months ago or a regular Joe who finds his way back from disappointment, failure or heartache, I'm a sucker for a comeback story.
Perhaps that's because as an adult, it's easy to be complacent and not stand up for what you believe in or fight for what you want. Not being complacent means taking risks and exposing yourself to the pain that comes from not getting what you want after admitting you want it.
If you don't ask she won't go out without you. If you never apply, they won't give you the job. And, we all know that if you never run, you can't be elected. That's why I'll always respect the loser who tried more than the guy who sat watching from the sidelines unwilling to get into the fray.
Maybe I won't support McCain just because he came back from failure and I most certainly won't support Clinton if she could do the same. Still, I respect those who can soldier on after being beaten, because while you can't win every battle, if you have the courage for it, you can always fight another day.
Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. His new book, a collection of columns, Easy Answers to Every Problem, can be ordered at Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. Daniel B. Kline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.