My daughter Isabelle sports a bright green t-shirt with Charlie Sheen’s smug mug plastered across her chest. The slogan makes this assertion:
DYING IS FOR FOOLS
THIS IS ME
In case you’re not familiar with Isabelle, or teenagers in general, you should know that she wears this t-shirt to play devil’s advocate. Adonis DNA and tiger blood notwithstanding, her point is that Charlie Sheen is a buffoon.
This past week, Americans have been doing a lot of soul searching about the pros and cons of winning. The internet is rife with it as we battle the war within us, wrestling with whether it’s morally right or wrong to gloat about the death of a monster such as Osama bin Laden.
The Duke of Wellington, in a letter he wrote after defeating Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, pondered this dilemma as well, when he said: “Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle won.” I’d have to say, that’s quite a mouthful. And of course, he’s right. While bin Laden, as terrorist mastermind extraordinaire, was a frightening man inspiring his minions to kill in the name of God, he in no way measures up to Bonaparte, who in spite of his tyrannical history and years of warmongering that caused the deaths of up to six million Europeans, is still respected for his military genius and restructuring of post-Revolutionary France.
There are inherent costs to winning, and many variations of it. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., reviews the meaning of what it is to “win”, meandering over 3 pages of text. “Winning” can be a victory, obtained through “strife, contention, conflict; tumult, disturbance, [and] agitation,” and it can also define beauty, good intentions and charismatic character. Winning may require work through laborious effort or extraction, and it forms the platform for accomplishment. What the dictionary doesn’t define is what are the attributes of a winner. I’m fairly certain that tiger blood isn’t part of the formula.
Winning comes with a cost, and very rarely does a “win” not create a ripple effect. It’s possible you could say that winning a landslide of coins out of a slot machine qualifies, but generally, there are two sides to every lawsuit, just as there are two sides to every argument.
Hall of Fame horse trainer Bob Baffert recognized this, in his decision not to run The Factor in the Kentucky Derby last Saturday; he realized that although the talented horse is lightening fast, running him in the Derby, coming off of a poor race in the Arkansas Derby, may ruin the animal. Osama bin Laden’s death is a win, of sorts, but the as-yet undetermined costs are anyone’s guess.
Isabelle has recently had a hands-on experience with the effects of winning. Or in her case, NOT winning. She ran for student body president at her high school, and lost the election. However, you should know the history of her decision to run for office. You see, she ran last year for the same position, and won. Because of teenaged high jinks and a mistake (let’s just say that the moniker, “The Lemon Jello Shot Queen”, would stick), she was stripped of that position by the school administration, with the proviso that she could run again the next year. Ever one to look a challenge in the face, that’s precisely what she did, being fully aware that it was highly unlikely that she had much chance of success. The cards were stacked against her.
Some of her advisors felt it was a mistake on her part to admit she’d goofed. I disagree, and admire her all the more for owning up to her behavior. I know she’s learned from it. I listened as she delivered her speech to the collected students, teachers and administrators, and watched for their reactions. As I’ve said, there are two sides to every story; while she certainly was guilty of making a poor choice, she wasn’t alone in her actions, but she, being President-elect, was the most visibly punished. I have to say I was incredibly proud of her, as she made very important statements about the nature of leadership with a poise, intelligence and wit not many sixteen-year-olds possess. She acted as a true leader by standing in front of a potentially hostile audience and urged them to think. Leaders are the ones who show the rest of the world what is the right thing to do, even if it makes their hearers uncomfortable. Leaders may be stifled by those who don’t want to hear what they have to say. At times, leaders are squelched by people who make trivial statements that are easier to swallow. People and projects that are most worthy of winning don’t necessarily achieve that status, because those who have decision-making power gravitate towards the easier, more popular choices.
Leaders don’t always win. But a true leader never gives up and never stops trying to improve the world. The costs of winning are high, and have lasting consequences that aren’t necessarily beneficial. A world-renowned terrorist is dead, but there surely are others who will step in to fill his place. Evil rarely takes a holiday. Charlie Sheen’s version of winning may have lost him his job, and definitely doesn’t auger well for his reputation. But, we should never stop striving to do the right thing. Now, let’s all get back to work.
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