Not intentionally, of course. That isn’t what I’m suggesting; there would be no productivity for either party in a debate if one were to lose on purpose. I am suggesting, however, that before one learns how to win, one must lose. Here’s a story that hockey fans are familiar with: When Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers went to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time, they were defeated in four consecutive games by the New York Islanders. In order to leave the arena, Wayne and his teammates had to pass by the Islanders’ dressing room. Wayne expected to see champagne bottles, loud music, and several other things representative of a celebratory scene – not so. Gretzky saw physios, trainers, ice packs, grimacing – a whole lot of pain, really. It was at that point, Wayne says, that he figured out what it took to win. After that loss, the Oilers went on to win the Cup in five out of the next seven seasons.
What happens when one wins a debate? Well, they get to feel good about themselves for being “right” and the other person being “wrong,” but what does that mean exactly? It means that we get to rest on our laurels; it means that there is no need to expand or improve upon the ideas that we have put forth (at least until the next time we find ourselves in a discussion) because, after all, we were right, and they were wrong! We might go back to the drawing board to do more research to strengthen our beliefs or ideas, but you would be hard-pressed to find anybody scouring the internet in attempt to prove themselves wrong. Some might say they do, but I’m not buying it. Our ideas and beliefs are challenged by life itself or by another person, not by ourselves. In the end, if you win a debate or discussion, you don’t improve. You win, sure, and that might be a testament to the work you’ve put in up to that point; however, it’s something like being a starting pitcher. You’re only as good as your last time out.
Okay, so what about when we lose a debate? A part of us dies. Our ideas and beliefs were clearly wrong, and while we might see that as a loss at first, it is but the beginning of victory. It is an opportunity to construct new, better, and stronger ideas; an opportunity to “build back better,” shall we unfortunately say. This may sound dichotomous, but showcasing our best effort and losing is winning. Winning is feeling good about ourselves temporarily whilst remaining stagnant. The purpose of a debate is to lose. Perhaps something to consider the next time engage somebody in a discussion about religion or politics. Don’t try to lose, but if you do lose, you’ve won.
Today, may you and I understand what we don’t understand, admit when we are wrong, and take the L’s that we don’t want to take, for that is the authentic way to win.
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