It’s OK to Lose

January 25, 2017

There’s a troubling myth being propagated in our national culture. It says winning — success — is everything. That if you lose a fight or other contest, you’re worthless. We saw this in the juvenile commentary after the Dec. 31 UFC women’s bantamweight bout between Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey, and we’ve continually heard this from our president and his sycophants.

I’m coming up on four years now as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned on the mat applies to life in general. It’s that it’s okay to lose. It’s how we learn.

There’s a spirtual aspect to this if you’re a fan of Taoism. The yin-yang symbol is one of motion: the white and black halves tumble over each other, propelling each through the cycle of development. The Tao Te Ching says, “Yield and overcome; bend and be straight.” Because when I accept defeat, I release my ego. I acknowledge that someone else might be better than I am at a particular task, that someone might even be stronger or more intelligent. When I accept the Socratic paradox that wisdom begins with knowing that I know nothing, then I am ready to learn from others.

The opposite of this is someone ruled by ego. He whines and lies if he thinks he’s going to lose, and he swaggers and taunts when he wins. He gaslights when objective truths don’t serve his popularity. And he learns nothing. When this person is an average Joe, it’s a tragedy. When this person is a national leader, it’s a catastrophe.

There’s probably nothing I can do to solve the problems at the top of our government. All I can do is ride the storm out, spending that time teaching the next generation the equanimity it will need for actual success. In the meantime, I entertain the fantasy that Ronda Rousey and Hillary Clinton will set their sails in these winds of fate. So, you’re not a world-champion mixed martial artist, and you’re not a president. So what? It doesn’t matter anymore. Ride the sailboat to where you should be now.