My 8-year-old son ran for president of his class this fall.
He campaigned around his classroom. He gave a speech. He tried to lobby his peers to vote for him. He put his heart into trying to win, but in the end, things didn’t turn out the way he imagined.
My son lost the election.
I held him for a long time in the school parking lot as he shared the news of his defeat; his eyes welling with the tears he didn’t want to shed in front of his classmates.
“That’s okay, Henry.” I told him. “There are more important things than winning. In fact, I think learning how to lose well is more important than winning.”
I’m thinking about what is has meant for our children to witness the sitting president of the United States continue to insist the election was stolen from him—even to the point of inciting riots.
I’m thinking about what it teaches our kids to see a group of extremists emboldened by him, storm our capital to threaten the democracy that my husband, my children’s father, sacrificed to protect.
I’m remembering the years I spent living apart from my husband, who was overseas for the first three years of our marriage serving four back-to-back deployments as a Naval Officer. They were lonely years for us as newlyweds, but I was proud of my husband’s service to our country.
I’m thinking of our many friends who continue to serve in the Navy, Marines, Army and Air Force, and the heroic few friends of ours who lost their lives during their military service. They believed so deeply in the mission of America that they gave up their lives for our freedoms; I am humbled every day by their lives and their deaths.
I’m reflecting on the many activists, journalists, first responders and unsung heroes who work every day to hold our country up to its ideals.
I’m thinking of the capital grounds in Washington, DC, where I used to take my oldest for walks when he was first born and we were living just blocks away.
So today, I’m reflecting as a mother, journalist, military spouse and citizen of this great country that so many—including our family—sacrificed to defend.
In a democracy, like in a family, we believe that people are entitled to different ideas, even to different values, but that they must treat each other with fairness and respect.
Unfurling chaos at the center of the democracy, the one that so many sacrificed to defend, is not patriotism. It is an act of outrageous selfishness. It is undeniably done with privilege. It is a profound threat to everything our family and country stands for.
And it is not “losing well.”
As I taught my child, losing well means not throwing a temper tantrum even when things didn’t turn out your way. Losing well means respecting that there are more important things than winning—things like maintaining a democracy. Losing well means believing that the will of the people is more important than getting everything you want exactly when you want it. There is grace and dignity in losing well. In the end, for my son’s elementary school class and the president of the United States, losing well might be more important than winning poorly.
I do believe we must continue to have legitimate political disagreements. If anything, the events of 2020 revealed that our country needs to debate ideas and policies in a more honest and robust way than ever. We can not let our divisions intimidate or shame us into not having hard conversations about how America can finally begin to live up to its ideals.
But chaos and rioting and violence—never.
As my oldest son put it, “Biden supporter or Trump supporter, everyone should want to stop the chaos.”
There is power in losing well. Even an 8-year-old gets it.