I was having lunch with a friend last week when we started talking about Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign.
Trump’s campaign is centered on casting events as competition that America is either going to win or lose.
Economically, America is either going to beat China or lose to China. In the “war on terror,” we are either going to beat Islamofascists or lose to them. And so on…
In our conversation, I asked my friend the question, “Do you think Americans still believe in winning?” What I meant was, are we still a nation of competitors who play to win?
We used to be. Competition is one of the centerpieces of capitalism, and fairly undiluted capitalism is how we ever became a superpower in the first place. As a nation, we used to instinctively know that competition brought out the best in everybody: more innovation, more ideas, less fear of failure.
My friend’s answer was a new idea to me. When I asked, “Do you think Americans still believe in winning,” he said, “Absolutely. The problem is we no longer believe in losing.”
I think it’s a brilliant and important point. For at least the last decade, our kids have been more likely to be brought up protected. Our kids are protected from losing. They’re protected from injury. They’re protected from taking chances, and they’re protected from learning how to handle situations on their own.
Losing is an important part of life. The feelings you have when you get crushed in a game or when you don’t get something you want… those are important feelings. And the more you have them the more you learn from them.
When you lose, you learn how to take the appropriate lessons from it. You learn how to not repeat the same mistakes. You also learn how to lose gracefully. You learn how to look long-term.
Why, just yesterday, my daughter’s basketball team lost to a team who insisted you can’t double-team when you’re only allowed to play man-to-man. (They were wrong, but insistent.) We ended up losing, but her coach said, “We lost today, but we learned more from that rule and will win down the road.”
It was exactly the right way to look at it. “We lost, but what we learned from it will make us stronger the next time we play.”
People love to romanticize America’s success, dominance or whatever you want to call it. But what strongly contributed to the rise of America is our willingness to try and fail. We go forward confidently, and we’re not shaken when we lose. We take stock of how we failed and then we get up and try again.
Or at least we used to. So long as we allow our kids to feel the sting of loss, we’ll be tougher and better off for it.