The 2016 presidential election is over. Done. In the books. Congratulations to the winning campaign; to the victor go the spoils. To the losing campaign: nice try, better luck next time.
There, was that so hard? Apparently to some, yes. In all honesty, to some it’s not only hard, it’s unfathomable! Yes, I’m pointing specifically to our younger generations.
This article is not about the election, the candidates, politics or campaigning. I want to explore what is or has happened to the art of winning and losing.
Let me start by saying I am not trying to blanket the entire young populace of our country. I know we have some fine young men and women out there. I do, however, have to say that I see a lot of young people who, frankly, scare me. Not in the “they are going to hurt me” sense, but the “how are they going to lead our country in the future when I’m old and gray” type of scare me.
We have had a few days now for the results of the election sink in. I don’t think I have ever seen the amount of whining, crying, anger and basic disregard for other opinions by our younger generations about anything until this. High school kids walking out of class, college kids unable to attend class because they can’t deal with the loss by their candidate, young adults spewing venom at the other side, people “protesting” by setting fires, assaulting those who speak out against them, denouncing their own government and country. It’s atrocious. Where did they learn this behavior and who told them it was okay to act like this?
I have seen this behavior before in younger people (albeit not to this magnitude). In the past I just dismissed it as random, perhaps a bad apple in the bunch, or learning the ropes of getting older. Take your pick. Teens and young adults sometimes get too big for their britches and think they know better. The thing is, I started to see it more, and then more, and more still. It had no demographic, racial, or social boundary. The way they talk to adults, to those in positions of authority, to their supposed mentors—what the hell is going on?
Thus enter this year’s election. Those in their early 20s either didn’t get to vote in the last presidential one or were just barely old enough to and had very little knowledge of what they were doing. Today’s high school kids were hip-deep in puberty for the 2012 election and likely didn’t care who ended up in the White House. Now all of the sudden, things don’t go the way some of them wanted it to and the sky’s falling.
I sense true anger, genuine sadness and despair and a visceral hatred for the other side…..but why? Why so much vitriol? Then it hit me like a backhand from Ike Turner. These kids don’t know what it’s like to lose! They have never been on the bottom tier! Never been told that they aren’t getting their way! Eureka!!!
I’ll start with an anecdote. When my oldest son was six, we enrolled him in flag football with other kids his age. They had a few practices with a volunteer coach but other than that it was just a test run to see what sports, if any, he was interested in. The first game came and the parents were told by the league representative that no score was kept. My wife and I looked at each other and shook our heads. The season came and went, the last game was finished and every kid got a trophy. Again, I shook my head. Yes, I know, my son was only six, but after every game he would ask me, “Dad, who won?” I would tell him who had because I kept score in my head. I wanted him to know what his team’s effort had produced. Guess what. If they won he was happy, if they lost he was sad, but the feeling lasted maybe a whole 60 seconds and he was on to the next thing in his six-year-old world.
My point is this: when did society decide we had to make all of our kids happy all of the time? Life is not always happy. Older adults know this. How are children supposed to learn about winning and losing, sportsmanship, respecting adversaries, forming alliances, putting in their best effort and all of the other important coping mechanisms they will need if we foster an environment of constant reward without risk? The answer is they most likely won’t. If they do finally “get it,” they are going to be lagging behind where they should be.
Victories should be savored, failures should be acknowledged and analyzed for improvement. Never should tantrums be thrown by the loser or losers of any contest. Tantrums degrade a person’s integrity and do nothing to change an outcome.
Growing up, I played sports. We kept score. There was a winner and a loser. Always. Some of my teams were great, others not so much. Won some games, lost some games. Won a few trophies, other years nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. But I learned that you win some and you lose some. That’s just how it is. If you don’t like losing, try harder. If you still lose, maybe the other guy wanted it more and put more effort in. Maybe it just wasn’t your day. Maybe your adversary had more talent than you. Maybe it was luck. Take your pick. I learned that when you lose, get knocked down, or make mistakes, you get angry with yourself, you stand up, take a deep breath, and then march on. Then it happens again, and again. But each new time, the fall isn’t as hard and it gets easier to stand back up. Then, all of the sudden, you win. You don’t get knocked down. You have learned from your mistakes and corrected them. That’s what happens when you don’t get a trophy for failing— you are rewarded with the opportunity to learn from your failure.
Fast forward to today’s youth. They have no tools to deal with defeat, no armor to deflect hurtful words, no respect for the opponent. Nor do they have any experience with how to deal with the emotions of losing. They revert to primal instinct, which is fight or flight. Thus, we are getting pictures of kids crying, berating others, destroying things.
Let me tell you something, kids: that is NOT okay! You had better pull up your pants, take a deep breath and start acting like an adult. Life is not fair. Life is hard. In fact, unless you are part of a privileged few, rarely will you get your way. You had better start learning that failure and defeat are part of growing up. They’re an important part, though, because without them you don’t learn anything and the victories you achieve won’t mean as much if you haven’t had to struggle a bit for them. Respect your enemy. You don’t see many good combat leaders around who underestimate their opponent and fail to show them respect. Most likely because they lost to them.
So stop crying, stop the seething rhetoric, stop destroying things that don’t belong to you and face defeat for once. You aren’t going to get timeouts in life when things aren’t going your way. Bosses aren’t going to give you a compensatory raise for a promotion you didn’t get and society isn’t going to reward you for climbing into your safe zone and curling up into a ball and yelling “bad touch.”
I do have hope for you. It’s obvious that this election meant something to all of you based on your reactions. You need to work on that part, though. The path to growing up is littered with failures, defeats, disappointments and difficulties. Just remember, it’s hard for others, as well, and you are just one of many who is following the path to being a real adult.
You were lied to: you were not born special. You came into this world like everyone else. What will make you special is what you do in your life and how you go about it. No one is going to give greatness to you. It must be earned. Trophies don’t represent it, tears don’t lure it and tantrums don’t persuade it. Be great. Or don’t. Either way, get used to defeat and loss. The last thing you will do on this earth is lose. You will lose your life. What happens between now and then is up to you.