picture symbolizing failure What's wrong with winning?
“Everybody loves a winner.” That’s a common belief which is especially held by sporting enthusiasts. Be it player or spectator, winning is the goal. Losing is … well losing is for losers.

As I get older, I have begun to understand that winning isn’t always everything; especially when it comes to love and politics.

Take love for example. My wife and I argue a lot. People who know us are sometimes amazed that we have remained married for over 40 years. The reality is my wife and I argue for sport. If I make a telling point which should end the argument, that doesn’t matter to her; she just raises her voice and yells something back. Nobody says, well you won this argument. On most occasions, the loser in the argument will abruptly change the subject or else say that they have to go do something.

What’s the point of beating one another down just so you can claim victory – and only a fleeting victory at that? We’re very competitive in our own right. However, when it comes to winning arguments, I really don’t care because it’s not important.

I can remember one or two arguments we’ve had that were significant. One example was the day she noticed that my paycheck was reduced by 5%. When she asked me what happened, I explained that I enrolled in a special savings plan at work. Savings put in this special program would not be taxed until I began withdrawing the money. Having my take home pay reduced did not please my princess. She threw a fit - a big fit. Today, she is receiving the benefit of a monthly annuity check being generated from the savings. I guess my impetuous behavior many years ago is now forgiven.

Okay, so I believe winning arguments with my spouse isn’t important. What about politics? Many people believe politics and winning go together like ham and eggs, butter and toast, fish and chips, etc. I agree - up to a point.

Getting elected is a contest about winning the most votes. Losers don’t get to sit on the throne. After a candidate wins the election, he or she is expected to govern. In my opinion, after winning the election, governing should take on another form. Always pitting yourself against the opposition creates long term animosity. Why is this true? I believe the answer is similar to behaviorism; a systematic approach to the understanding of human behavior.

Politicians are elected to represent their constituency. This means that issues or beliefs held by their constituents are subject to being endorsed or rejected by the governing body. The politician feels good when a decision is made by the governing body that benefits his or her constituency. The constituents reward the politician by praise and appreciation.

While a politician cannot expect to win constantly, a series of legislative defeats will generate doubt and discontent. Constituents will begin to doubt the effectiveness of their representative, praise will be withheld, and some will threaten to vote for someone else.

The politician’s reaction to continually losing can be measured in loss of self-esteem, a sense of failure and anger. These negative feelings will be directed toward his or her political opponents. Nobody likes to be beaten at every turn. Losing one crucial vote after another will create long term dislike and disdain between and among politicians.

What is the effect of this simmering dislike and disdain for one another? At the extreme, we can experience a meltdown of our political system during which nothing important gets done. Making issues personal; it becomes winners versus losers.

Years ago, I attended Officer’s Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. One of our slogans was, “cooperate and graduate.” This meant that a person could not successfully complete the training program unless he cooperated with his fellow soldiers. For example, the squad was required to navigate a special obstacle course. No individual could physically complete this task by himself. Only when the entire squad began helping one another could the physical obstacles be overcome.

It is the same in politics. Successful governing requires input from many. One politician or political party does not have a perfect set of answers. We’ve witnessed evidence of this when members of one political party unilaterally decide they know the solution to healthcare, taxation, national debt, education, etc. How has this worked out so far?

In today’s environment, our two political parties are constantly sniping at one another; each hoping to land a knockout punch and be declared winner. The news media outlets have taken sides and are cheering for their team or jeering the opponents. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of citizens are sick and tired of this political war because citizens believe everybody is losing.

This situation reminds me of an old saying, “Don’t get into a peeing contest because everybody gets wet.” I believe our political leaders have become drenched in urine and it’s time for cooler heads to step forward and start showing real leadership.

By definition, all elected officials are leaders. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? It’s simple, look for the politicians who grab the microphone and stand in front of the camera. In particular, notice the politicians who either pat themselves on the back or take pleasure in castigating their opponents. They’re the chaff – the pseudo leaders. They are more interested in sound bites and getting re-elected than helping America. The real leaders will be the politicians who quietly work across party lines and prepare legislation which will benefit America as a whole.

What can we do to help? My suggestion is contact your elected representative and ask him or her to locate and support the real leaders; leaders who are willing to compromise and work with politicians of all stripes. There's a lot more at stake than somebody’s ego.

Joe R. East, Jr.

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Updated 06/09/2023
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