Are we behaving like we want our politicians to behave?
Lynn Vavreck’s article in the New York Times entitled “Keep Your Eyes on the Losing Candidates” states, “…[I]t is of great consequence who wins elections, but the candidates who lose are equally important to the future of free and fair elections in the United States.”
The crux of her message centers around how candidates who lost elections behaved, specifically Nixon, Gore, and Clinton. They all conceded. Hillary Clinton wrote, “I’m here today to honor our democracy and its enduring values.” Al Gore, who won the popular vote by half a million votes, conceded the loss “for the sake of our unity as a people, and the strength of our democracy.”
And look at Nixon. Vavreck reminds us that he not only “presided in Congress over his own loss in the Electoral College, he pledged his ‘wholehearted support’ to his opponent, John F. Kennedy, and asked his supporters to do the same.” (italics mine)
You can tell a lot about a person not only by how they behave after losing, but also how they behave after winning. And this is not just about politeness or making nice. It’s about what kind of a hold the ego might have on you — and whether you’re actually capable of stepping aside for the greater good.
But let’s focus in a little closer to home and just be us. You and me.
Depending on which races we’re talking about and who you voted for, your person either won or lost. Either way — who are you now? Are you crowing? Are you cursing? Who are you right now, in the (almost) aftermath of this midterm election?
Story #1 from my checkered past: How Not to Lose, How Not to Win
I love to play cards. My former husband, Halim, and I would play gin rummy and while I was good, he was much better. I tried to distract him with trash talk, get inside his head, I thought I was so clever. But he had a very clear mind and got something like 1650 on his SATs, so I mostly lost.
I was a terrible loser, and every time it happened, I bullied him into playing another game (I wouldn’t accept the ballot count.). I made him play another, and another (without mercy) until I won. I’m certain he finally threw his own game out of sheer fatigue.
When I won, I would get up and do a victory dance and sing a neener neener song, “I-I-I woooon, and you-ou-ou looooooozed.” Thumb and index finger to my forehead. LOSER. Chicken dance. Strong man pose. Mwahahahaha! I rubbed it in with maximum glee and zero dignity.
Then he would crack me up and say, “Even when I LOSE, I can’t win.”
This was fun, and we made each other laugh, but it was also a master class in how not to lose and how not to win.
So for those of us who rooted for the candidate who actually won — who are we now? Are we still trash-talking the one who lost? Are we crowing?
Story #2 from my checkered past: Then I Learned How to Lose.
I lived for years in Cody, Wyoming, working as Director of Sales for my husband, Harry Jackson — a renowned artist and a maverick in the art world. Harry travelled a lot, and I sold his work from Cody. We were a small, tight-knit crew: the accountant, the photographer and studio assistant, the receptionist and me.
The receptionist, Sara Burdette, was famous for her Rocky Mountain Chocolate Chip cookies. I may be misremembering the exact name of the cookie, but I absolutely remember practically lose consciousness with joy because of those cookies. I had tasted one at her house one day, when we’d met for lunch.
After that lunch, I bugged her every single day for way longer than I care to admit — "Please please please make me a batch of these cookies. I’ll pay you whatever you want." I kept bribing her and noodling her and bugging her until she finally broke down and made me a batch. A whole batch for me.
I found them on my desk one day in a paper bag. I opened it and there they were — treasure! MY treasure! I thanked her profusely, showered her with favors, etc. And then, that same day, sitting at my desk, I had an idea. I would make these things last. I would only eat them one per day. And I folded up the paper bag and put it way way up on the top shelf where nobody would find them.
Weeks went by. I forgot all about the cookies. I literally forgot they were there. And then, in a moment of miraculous recall, I remembered. This evil smile came over my face, and I reached way way up and found that paper bag with my treasure in it. I mean, yes, it had been a couple weeks, so they’d hardened a little, but that was nothing.
I brought the bag down to my desk when no one was there, and opened it.
No hardened Rocky Mountain Chocolate Chip Cookies. Just rocks. It was a paper bag with just the right amount of actual rocks in it.
I laughed so hard. The punishment was perfect for the crime: It had never entered my mind to share with anyone. Here were these heavenly cookies, and all I wanted was to make them last as long as possible. For ME. The payback was appropriate, proportional and hilarious.
When Sara got back from lunch, I thanked her. And apologized. And felt complete.
I never had another Rocky Mountain Chocolate Chip Cookie since the first and only one I had at her house. But the lesson stayed with me forever.
This was a moment when I lost well and graciously, and when I also learned the value of being a generous winner.
So, if our candidate did not win — who are we? Are we infuriated? Defeated? Hopeless? Maybe so, maybe not.
I just think it’s incredibly valuable to pay attention: When we lose, what goes on in our minds? How do we behave? What do we think, say, or do to the people closest to us? To our friends, to our enemies. And when we win, same. What goes on in our minds? What are our beliefs, and how do they drive our visible actions?
Changing the world is hard.
Gandhi was right when he said, “Be the change we want to see in the world.” If we really think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and we want to change it for our grandchildren, then we (WE — not our congresspeople, not our senators) have to be better people.
This bettering takes forever. It’s thankless, hard work. But when we all do it, you’ll see.
The world will be a better place to live… because we will be better people living in it.