The art of losing

By James Jimenez

I learned about democracy at home. Starting from when we were still very young, our parents – but our mother most especially – had introduced my sister and me to some of the most basic principles that sit at the core of democracy: the art of losing, in particular was a very big thing in the Jimenez household.

The Art of Losing

My mom was a firm believer in consensus building. In our house, it was rare for us to hear “because I said so,” as a justification for why something needed to be done and how. But after all the consensus building was done and the majority had decided on what to do, the ones that didn’t get their way were expected to accept the decision with grace – a skill that most Filipino politicians need to develop. As they say half-jokingly – there are only two kinds of Filipino politicians: those who won, and those who were cheated out of their victory.

One specific example stands out in my memory. I was once asked to choose where I wanted to go to grade school. At one, I was able to explore the library and that was where I learned how the days of the week were mostly named after Norse gods. Did you know that Wednesday was named after the god Woden? Well, before that visit, neither did I.

The other place we checked out was a newer school. They didn’t have as big a library, but they were the proponents of a groundbreaking new style of primary education that my mom – who was also a licensed teacher – found promising. In the end, I chose the school with the bigger library, but my mom overruled me. As I ugly-cried, she explained that, with my short attention span, the new school’s teaching methods would be more beneficial to me than the more traditional ways of the other school.

“But the library!” I whined. My mother told me that the school would build up its library while I was there. In the meantime, she explained, it was more important that I benefit from the new teaching methods practiced by the school. And so I went. I did thrive under the new teaching methods, and after diving deep into the small library’s collection, I met Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, along with Robinson Crusoe and Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov.

How to Accept Defeat and Move On

Looking back, the lessons on how to accept defeat, and move on from it, were clear.

First, seek to comprehend why you didn’t get what you want. In my case, my mom gently laid out her arguments for me to understand. Fortunately, I wasn’t too stubborn, as she was also liable to be not-so-gentle to the unreasonable. Still, the point is that I was not allowed to wallow in self-pity and believe that I was arbitrarily being denied what I wanted. In the same way, politicians have to make the effort to understand why they lost. Unfortunately, most politicians won’t have a mom to slap sense into their thick skulls when they start whining about losing. Instead, they have supporters who will probably be so afraid of wounding the candidate’s ego that they end up whining right alongside. “Dinaya kami!” In the meantime, the idea of being victimized gets entrenched.

And second, after understanding the defeat, move forward by focusing on what you can do, rather than on what you failed to. I wanted a big library, but since I couldn’t have that, I dived deep into the little library and uncovered gems that I still value to this day. And I have my mom’s advice to thank for that. If she had allowed me to be embittered by my failure to get what I wanted, I would not have benefited from either the school or its library.

For politicians, moving on like this could take the form of re-dedicating themselves to the service of the electorate; or they could revisit their old platforms and modify them to be more responsive to the needs of the people – to build up support for a future come-back. Whatever they do, what matters is that they do not end up encased in the victim’s mentality which would likely push them to strive to undermine public confidence in a democratic system that they’re convinced is stacked against them. Even worse, those who believe they have been cheated out of a victory might end up advocating cheating themselves, out of fear and desperation.

Mother’s Day

This Sunday, the whole world will celebrate mothers in all different ways: flowers, chocolates, big dinners, and various other tributes galore – all to say, thank you Mom. For most, however, thanking Mom for lessons in democracy would probably not be in the top ten things to be grateful for. In fact, we often think of democracy almost exclusively in the context of government and politics. My experience, as I’ve relayed it to you here, teaches me different.

In reality, the principles of democracy are not first learned in schools. These core values are actually deeply rooted in how our parents – our moms especially – lived their lives. We learned from the interactions we had within our own homes, long before we acquired the vocabulary to talk about it the way we do as adults; we’ve just never really looked at it that way. And that’s something we can definitely give mom a bouquet for.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here