President Lyndon Johnson came to realize that the Vietnam War was a misguided policy, according to a documentary I saw a couple years ago. Yet, he continued to send U.S. troops into the conflict because he didn’t want to go down in history as the first American president to lose a war.
What is this American obsession with winning and our intense fear of losing?
Take for instance, last winter’s Olympic figure skating competition. Here were couples doing the most beautiful lifts and spins, and the announcers spoiled it for me by repeatedly emphasizing minor mistakes that might jeopardize the pair’s quest for a medal.
“Oh no, she blinked an eye. That will mean a deduction of one-tenth of a point!”
I mean, in competition you strive to win, but in my experience the joy of competing has always been more satisfying than winning or losing.
When I was in high school, my friends and I spent many Sunday afternoons in the bowl at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School playing touch football. I don’t remember how many times my team won. In fact, if one team was winning by too big a margin, we’d mix up the players to make the game more competitive and therefore more fun.
Now, it’s no fun to lose all the time. I am after all, a Cubs fan. But we shouldn’t feel this need to win everything for fear that the world will collapse.
After getting a concussion while playing varsity football in high school, I decided I wasn’t good enough so I downgraded. I quit the team at the end of the season and played intramural football the next year. Admittedly, I felt like a failure. But looking back at it, I realize I had a lot more fun because I had found the level where I could enjoy competing. I honestly don’t remember how many games my intramural football teams won, but what I do remember is the joy of being with a bunch of guys playing a sport I loved.
Today alone, half of all the competing sports teams across the globe are going to lose. More than half of all the companies that submit bids for projects today are going to lose the contract. In November all of the candidates running for mayor will lose, except one.
We’ve got to face it. Losing is a big part of life.
Part of the problem is that society has tagged those who accept defeat as having a poor attitude. Just an example, teams hire sports psychologists to help them imagine winning. I have no problem with that, but if the laws of chance indicate that half the teams competing on any given day are going to lose, shouldn’t your team therapist be helping you learn to lose with dignity and self-respect?
In contrast to the business community in Forest Park, which on the whole is winning right now, the majority of churches in town are losing. They are membership and income. But if you let go of keeping score, the congregations in Forest Park are good communities to be a part of. Each congregation is beautiful.
We can learn something from Forest Park’s faith communities: how to lose well.
Much like when Lyndon Johnson was president, the country is split on what to do with our troops. It bothers me when people use language like “cut and run” to rebut advocates of withdrawing from Iraq. If you are a fighter who is getting clobbered, there is no virtue in going out for another round. When it’s time to throw in the towel, throw in the towel. This need to always prevail, to always win, inevitably will be self-destructive. Johnson didn’t know how to lose, and it got a lot of people killed.