Americans aren’t good losers anymore


By Terry Manning

Terry ManningI’m going to apologize upfront if your ears are damaged from the noise. It’s very likely that at some point in the next couple of minutes a curmudgeon alert is going to sound off. 

You’ve been warned. Proceed at your own risk.

So …

A friend and I were recently discussing the current state of affairs of our country. We took turns blaming a variety of bad actors and unseemly influences before settling on one neither of us could reason our way past blaming: participation trophies. 

Participation trophies have prevented our young people and our culture at large from learning how to take an “L.” It seems no one can accept defeat anymore without accusing the competition or the powers that be of cheating, rigging the outcomes or demanding some kind of conciliatory gesture.

In MY day… BRAAAAP! BRAAAAAP! BRAAAAAPPP! (Sorry that was louder than I had expected.)

But as I was saying, there was a time when the flip side of learning how to be a magnanimous winner was learning not to be a sore loser. We were taught that defeat actually could be edifying to character, more so than victory. Persistence. Resilience. Grace. These can be the fruits of failure.

Thomas Edison. Albert Einstein. Harlan Sanders. Sam Walton. Steve Jobs. Elon Musk. They all failed at different points in their lives. And yet all are rightfully praised as some of our culture’s greatest success stories. 

Mary Kay Ash retired after being passed over for a promotion by a male coworker, a man she had do train. She began writing what was intended to be a guidebook for women in business but soon turned into a plan for her own cosmetics empire.

They turned their setbacks into setups for future success.

These kids today … BRAAAAP! BRAAAAAP! BRAAAAAPPP! (Can we turn that thing down just a little bit? I was about to say something complimentary!)

Ahem, as I was saying, kids today are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for being. If there has been a silver cloud to this pandemic, it has been the flexibility our youngest people have shown in trying to deal with what for them has to feel like the most disruptive thing that has happened in their young lives. This is their 9/11, their AIDS epidemic, their World War, all in one. And they’ve done OK.

They have adapted to online learning. They understand social distancing. They wash their hands. They wear their masks. And this has led to K-12 schools ranking relatively low on the list of places where the coronavirus is thriving. The spread has been lower than many expected.

On occasions where young people have bucked the restrictions that have been placed on them — such as those at colleges and universities — it’s easy to blame immaturity and inability to appreciate just how profound a threat the coronavirus is. Plus, they are battling a biological imperative to, and I believe it was Shakespeare who said it best, “Don’t stop! Get it, get it!” They have a lot on their plates, but generally speaking, it’s the adults who aren’t being the best role models.

We are the disgruntled. We are the whiners. We are the ones who refuse to accept that we can’t get everything we want. That sometimes we can be our best and give our best and still come out on the losing end. We don’t know how to be good losers anymore. 

And as frustrating as it is being an adult watching what’s happening, the kids also are watching what we do and how we do it. And if we’re not careful, we’re teaching them how to make sure things get worse before they get better.


Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a graduate of Clemson University with a degree in English and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He also has a Master’s in Business and Technology from the University of Georgia. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com.

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