A couple weeks ago I asked Commissioner Marty Tellalian about his experience on the village council so far. He replied, “Well, there have been several votes of four to one.”
His smile had a touch of irony in it as he answered my question, but he was smiling. His response got me to thinking about losing. The NCAA basketball tournament is going on right now. In all of the 63 games that will be played, half the teams will lose, and ultimately all of them except one will go down to defeat.
On the Sunday when the 64 teams that had been chosen to compete in the tournament would be announced, one TV commentator interviewed the coach of a team “on the bubble,” meaning it was uncertain whether they would get in.
Instead of boasting about how good his team was and how they deserved to be included, the coach talked about the situation as an occasion to teach his young athletes a lesson about life. “There will be many times in life,” he told his players, “when things won’t go your way no matter how hard you try. Just like winning, it’s a part of life.”
What a contrast, I thought, to Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots who ran into the locker room at the end of the Super Bowl without shaking the winning coach’s hand. Sore loser? More than that. His behavior was symptomatic of our society’s obsession with winning.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying to win. It’s satisfying to set a goal and achieve it, and it’s especially sweet when you have to overcome great odds to do it. The problem comes when winning becomes an ego thing. Brett Favre – who retired from pro football at the ripe old age of 38 – was like a kid when it came to playing the game. But when the game was over – win or lose – he became a man again and greeted the other players with whom he had relationships.
It’s not just in sports. Recently, commentators have been saying that the competition for the Democratic nomination between Hillary and Barack might tear the party apart. The irony would be that both are such good campaigners that the fallout from their fight to win the nomination might cause the Democratic Party to lose the election in November.
Eventually, one of them will lose. What happens in November might depend on how well that person goes down to defeat. Will he or she accept fate gracefully and work towards strengthening the party, or will it become an ego thing, a fight to the finish?
On April 15, E.J. Dionne is going to give a lecture on the common good at Dominican University. Basic to the concept of the common good is the notion that, at times, God expects individuals to give up their rights and prerogatives for the sake of the community. For the individual, in other words, losing might be the right and good thing to do.
Now, I know that eminent domain has become a four letter word in this town recently, but I want to caution against throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe the application of the principle last year to the need for parking was misguided, but the principle still retains some basic merit. The principle that the community has a right to require an individual to lose so that everyone can come out a winner is self-evident to all but the most extreme libertarians.
Tellalian has it right, in my opinion. He’s in it for the long haul, tries not to get his ego involved and worries about the common good. Whether he’s right or wrong on specific issues is not as important as the way he does business. Even when he loses, he’s a winner.