Winning and Losing With Grace

I hate to lose. I’d rather win. As much as I might try to tone that down – especially around church – it’s real and anyone who’s seen me play foosball, ping pong, or video bowling on the big screen in the sanctuary during Youth Group sleepovers knows what I am talking about. What’s been interesting to observe is how losing is sometimes a lot easier than at other times. And winning can have different flavors, as well.

Dealing with a sore loser who resorts to insults, whining, or discrediting the outcome undermines the experience for players, spectators, and umpires alike. It impacts the respect people have for the game and everyone involved. The opposite is true, as well. A loser who remains gracious and kind inspires respect for the player and the game.

Yet what I find even more intriguing (and important) is the challenge of being a “good” winner. How can we allow ourselves to savor the feelings of success yet adequately acknowledge the sense of defeat by our opponent? How can we use the power that comes with winning to soften the experience of loss and make sure the fans of the loser will respect us rather than revile us? How can we make sure our opponent or future opponents will want to play another game?

The Sunday after the 2008 presidential election I attended worship at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. At least I had expected to attend worship. What I experienced felt more like a victory rally for those who had won the election earlier that week. I looked around the sanctuary to see how those who were hurting, those whose “team” had lost were being invited back into relationship, were given hope that their concerns would not be negated or neglected. None of that happened. The joy of the majority overpowered the needs of the minority already feeling vulnerable in that space.

Each time we engage in an election – the competitive game fundamental to our democracy – there will be losers and winners. May we all remember to be gracious in defeat, and extra gracious, caring, and aware of the relationships at stake should the “players” we support – whatever color their jersey – win. And may we remember that elections are a spectator sport whose health depends on our participation. Who wins and loses is ultimately up to us. How the win or loss is experienced determines the respect for the game going forward.

With hope,