I just went through Shelby Foote’s astounding The Civil War: A Narrative.
While the Union was preserved and American enterprise kicked into high gear, I’m not at all sure there were any winners in the Civil War. 620,000 soldiers were killed, while another 800,000 were wounded or went missing. Add to that civilian casualties and the massive economic destruction and that is more loss that I can come close to comprehending.
For those in the Confederacy, belief was around the notion that the majority in Congress could not tell them what to do or what to believe. Their communities held that their economic system, based in slavery, was not only right, it was sanctified, Biblical and their duty to maintain separations between themselves and those God made less capable than they were. This made their fighting, their killing and their dying, blessed and holy, made their loss a source of more pride than their opponents got from winning.
Loss was a given then, and loss is a given today. It is impossible to go into any kind of fight without understanding that loss will be involved. There will always be a price to be paid.
Winning always includes losing.
This is not something success masters want to tell you. Their strategy is to keep you so focused on the win that you never really consider the price. In fact, it’s best if you don’t really consider anything other than going for it, than just doing it.
In the end, your life is less defined by what you want to win than it is by what you are willing to lose in trying to achieve that win. It’s what you stand up for, even though you know you may well lose, that defines who you are.
In a win at any cost world, one that tries to keep loss in the dark, this is hard to comprehend. After all, isn’t winning not just everything, it is the only thing?
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
— The Paradoxical Commandments, Kent M. Keith 1968
Sometimes, even when you know you can’t win, standing up for your values, doing the what you believe to be correct is still the right choice.
I see people all around me who never give a second thought to the price of what they do to win. They are entitled, winners are valued, so they just focus with laser like vision, doing whatever they think will make them win.
They always pay the price, making trade offs and enduring loss in the process of getting what they believe they want, but those losses are hidden behind nice compartment walls. Sure, they sometimes wonder why winning doesn’t fill them up, why they still feel empty inside, but hey, winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.
There is a pride in knowing that you did the right thing, that you stood up for a good cause, even though you know that you are fated to lose.
The game of life is hard to play
You’re going to lose it anyway
The losing card you’ll someday lay
Sometimes, a really futile and stupid gesture is required, if not to win, to move the boundaries a tiny bit. Someone has to make a stand, even if they are just a voice in the crowd, run over by people who aren’t able to understand why that challenge is at all important.
We stand for what we value, even if the majority of us are quickly and invisibly steamrollered, never becoming worldwide symbols of resistance like the protester who danced with the tank in Tienanmen Square. Our scant grains of human conscience make what changes they can and then remain to pile up, becoming a trace in a weight of change against a system that values winning over anything else.
Human history is a tracing of conflict, individuals standing strong and proud even when they knew the odds were long and the motion would take much longer than one puny, sacred lifetime. We do what we can, in bold attacks and in subversive stories, passing our values into those who will move beyond us. It may not be the Hollywood way, the popular way, but for us, it is the right way.
It is this sense of pride in losing the good fight that keeps some of us throwing ourselves into the same battles again and again, even when it is very, very clear that there is no real chance of winning in any timely and meaningful way. We are less pragmatic than we are idealistic, more willing to absorb the loss because we believe so strongly in the cause.
This is definitely a crackpot approach but it is one that my family taught me early. There just are causes you can’t easily abandon because your identity, your valour and your love is tied up in them, causes like taking care of your family.
I know that I am a loser. The awareness of loss is deep within me, desiccating me to my very core.
In that loss, though, that attempt to slay dragons, the going beyond all sensible bounds, I am very proud even today. I fought the good fight, and while it would have been nice if the costs hadn’t been so immensely much less than the rewards, I didn’t do it for easy wins, didn’t do it for showing people what a winner I am.
I fought the battles of caring for others and speaking what I knew to be true because I knew that to be the right thing to do. It seemed to honour the gifts my mother in the sky gave me.
Winning isn’t the only thing, nor is it everything. It is the struggle to do better, to stand for integrity, authenticity, connection and service that has always made me proud.
Even if it, as all life does in the end, also made me a loser.