Saturday, February 10, 2024

You Win Some, You Lose Some

This is not another long-form think piece about Beyonce. Or the fact that Jay Z got up on stage and started another unnecessary skirmish between the Bey Hive and the Swifties over the one Grammy Award that a certain person has never received whilst the other person has four. I mean, I understand the complaint, but it feels rather on-brand (and not in a good way), to whine about having ALL the things except this one little thing, for which she was not nominated, she doesn't need, and probably doesn't have the shelf space to display...

Nevertheless, none of the Beekeepers are going to agree with me on that. And after a week of reading commentary posted by grown-ass people with jobs unrelated to defending the Carter Family empire, I am going to leave that alone. Furthermore, having just written about Swift and mindful that we have an extra day this year for Black History Month, I will let her sit this one out as well.

Instead, I am writing a general open letter of sorts to the world that maybe we need to do a better job of remembering the lessons we were taught as children about winning and losing. Seems everyone has forgotten how to be gracious at both, with folks complaining about not winning enough or folks insisting that they won victories when all evidence indicates otherwise. Into this fray comes the Busy Black Woman to offer some reminders. 

Dear Everybody:

One of the first sentences you were taught as a child was to say thank you. I distinctly recall that if I failed to utter those words, several scenarios might play out, such as having whatever was just offered to me taken back. And it was done in such a dramatic way to maximize the impact, usually by the loudest Auntie or Uncle who declared I didn't hear you say thank you, so I guess you don't really want this. Then as a follow up, you had to endure a public scolding. And because this always happened at some large family gathering, you got that look from one or both parents--the look that clearly communicated that this wasn't even the half of what to expect on the way home. Ah yes, even at 50 years old, the memory of that kind of embarrassment has never faded. (Mind you, the person responsible for this trauma did not hear me say thank you, because I did say was no use arguing that point 40+ years ago any more than it is worth insisting on it now.) 

But you get my point. Thank you is the simplest, easiest, and most gracious sentence in every culture and language that can avoid most misunderstandings in life. It doesn't need to be an Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony-worthy speech (unless you are accepting one of those awards and need to thank God; your parents; your significant other, children, and pets; as well as your team of lawyers, agents, glam squad, etc.), in which case, just make sure to wrap it up before the music plays. 

Some of us were raised to send thank you notes; some of you were not. It seems as if nowadays handwritten notes are a generational relic, with many folks opting to send a thank you email or text. To be honest, I am not going to be a stickler about the form because I get that there are times when a less formal communication of gratitude is appropriate. Therefore, I am happy to receive a phone call in place of whatever Emily Post etiquette rules once existed. We're all busy, kids don't learn how to read or write in cursive anymore, and ain't nobody got time to be worried about stamps or how to properly address an envelope. 

However, I will judge you if I go out of my way to do something nice and you shrug it off like you deserved it. While I won't call you out like that loud Auntie, you gonna learn real quick that I won't trouble you with any future acts of kindness. Yes, it is that serious, because a failure to acknowledge someone's benevolence or generosity is not just rude, but it reeks of entitlement. No one is that busy or important. Even bill collectors take the time to thank you for making a payment. And in the event that you had a human moment and forgot to express thanks, that's fine because there is no statute of limitations. Better late than never.

When you were in elementary school playing some game on the playground, invariably, somebody got mad about losing. And that kid had an epic tantrum that required intervention by a teacher or playground monitor. After being hauled off to the principal's office or the teacher's lounge, s/he returned to class to offer an apology, which was then reinforced by a lecture on the merits of sportsmanship. I can't speak for everyone reading this, but I remember hearing this lecture every year in some capacity from every teacher who needed to emphasize that not all of us were going to win the game, be awarded the first prize certificate, be cast in the starring role, or sing the solo. 

Some of y'all weren't listening. Or maybe you were the kid who always came out on top, so you never had to learn what it meant to be the runner up. You got all As, you were the team captain, or you maybe you played soccer during that era when folks stopped keeping score and gave everyone a participation trophy. Whatever excuse you have for being a sore loser as an adult, it's time for you to put on your big kid pants and grow the heck up!

Sometimes you don't win. Al Gore invented the internet, won a Nobel Peace Prize, and still looks pretty good for his age. But he didn't win the 2000 Presidential Election because he lost the state of Florida by 537 votes*. The Atlanta Falcons were winning the Superbowl against the New England Patriots in 2017 until the second half of the game, then they lost in overtime 34-28. How many times have you watched a game show and the contestant in the lead loses Final Jeopardy or overbids the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right? Imagine being from one of those small countries that goes to the Olympics every four years but never wins any medals. Or being Susan Lucci for 19 years.

I don't know how we got to this point. I don't know what changed in the course of my lifetime where the adage that winning isn't everything became an alternative fact from the multiverse of infinite options. Political candidates routinely refuse to concede elections, with the best example being the former President of the United States who continues to insist that he won an election that he lost by 7 million votes. Winning at all costs has been normalized in other aspects of life, with students now filing lawsuits to gain admission to their top choice college. Or cheating to stack the deck in their favor like the parents caught up in that Operation Varsity Blues scandal. Sports franchises spend the equivalent of the gross national product (GNP) of the world's poorest countries just to win trophies. All of this backlash we see against diversity, equity, and inclusion is just sour grapes and fear over possibly losing access to once-restricted opportunities.

It used to be that losing built character. It encouraged perseverance. It taught us that life is sometimes unfair, but to show up and try anyway. Even the Bible tells us that there is a time and a place for everything, and while it doesn't explicitly mention winning and losing, shouldn't that be implied?

Someone wrote a post to Facebook about what Jay Z was teaching his daughter in his speech the other night, and I certainly agree that it was admirable for him to defend his wife (we'll address that part at another time). At the same time, I can also believe that he imparted the wrong message to his daughter about winning--it isn't always based on objective criteria. And we don't always deserve to win just because we show up. There are a lot of people who worked hard who still finish last, which is what we see happen every four years at the Olympics. Some of those folks only won the preliminary opportunity to compete on the international stage, but that doesn't make those victories any less significant.

There is an arrogance to feeling so entitled to winning that often leads to backlash, resentment, and eventually to becoming what winners fear--a loser. We've seen the defeat of athletes who compete past their prime and refuse to retire. We've seen the hubris of leaders who think they are irreplaceable. We've seen some extremely talented people surround themselves with sycophants who never offer critical advice or counsel. We've seen how people who are so used to winning at everything can't handle when the tides shift. We've seen world records broken, statues and monuments toppled, and greatness surpassed. 

We've seen winners lose. And then true character is revealed. 

The true character of the two ladies who aren't supposed to be the reason why I'm writing this open letter was on display well before the Grammy telecast. Beyonce attended the premier of Taylor Swift's Eras concert film, and Swift graciously acknowledged the influence Beyonce had on younger artists like her. EVERYBODY seems to have missed that in the rush to take sides, which has been most disappointing. Because if you truly understood the diva-like aura that tends to surround artists on that level, you would know this photo was definitely not a PR stunt.

You win some and you say thank you. You lose some, you nod and smile, and then go back to work or practice with a mind towards winning the next time. You keep putting in the work. You keep showing up. And what you will win at some point in the process will be more meaningful and significant than a participation trophy.

* still disputed, but not by Gore

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