Some themes play out over and over again, from generation to generation, the whole world over. The paradox of winning and losing is one such theme,
“Do you want to give up?” The pounding would continue until the guy on the bottom would finally shout (or whimper) “I give!” It was the height of humiliation on the playground in 5th, 6th, 7th grade. The only good thing about it was that anyone who was watching felt for you – not that any of them would step in and help you; but at least you had their hidden sympathy.
It’s one of the hardest things to do in life – admit that you are losing. Columnist Frank Bruni wrote a piece in Tuesday’s NY Times called The Cult of Sore Losers. He points out that Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters don’t believe he is “losing”; they believe he is being robbed of the Democratic nomination, “a victim of antiquated rules, voter suppression, shady arithmetic and a corrupt Democratic establishment.” Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich can’t bring themselves to admit or believe that Donald Trump is really the candidate the Republicans want. It is “the will of the people,” says Cruz, that “he and John Kasich collude to prevent Trump from amassing a majority of delegates …”
Losers don’t credit the winners for winning; they believe themselves to “have been outmaneuvered rather than outvoted.”
Boxers pound each other’s body; politicians pummel each other’s reputation. The people who are most critical of a politician’s integrity and ethics are other politicians. No wonder we have a crisis of trust in our elected officials.
Perhaps the more pressing question is not how to exit gracefully, but how to conduct the campaign such that no apologies are necessary.
As I read through Father Richard Rohr’s book “Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps”, I’m reminded of how essential it is for human spiritual and emotional development to be able to admit our powerlessness. At some level, until we are able to acknowledge that we are “losers”, unable to completely control either the world around us or the world within us, we never win.
How much energy goes into maintaining the façade that we’ve got it all together? How many little lies do we tell about ourselves or others in order to keep our self-image sufficiently bolstered? How many of us never quite make it out of emotional adolescence, constantly bobbing and weaving in order to never have to really face our own fears?
It’s possible to live with a veneer of socially acceptable happiness. It might even be true to say that’s where most of us are. But the irony of life – the holy paradox – is this: it’s in dying to ourselves that we find true life. It’s in letting go that we discover love’s embrace. Dare we say it in our “Everyone’s a Winner” society that, until we admit we are losers, we will never experience the joy and power of real victory. The time for such an admission is now.