As you may already know, the results of Mexico's presidential election were officially announced today. Felipe Caldarón won by just over half of a percent. The other major contendor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is promising to take the election to court. He asserts fraud on a nationwide level.
This sounds terribly familiar, and of course, it should. In the presidential election of 2000, between Al Gore and George W. Bush, the entire nation was subjected to the same shtick. In my home state of Washington, the elections for governor (Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi) ran the same way. In the presidential election, the losers didn't prevail in overcoming the proper election process. In my home state of Washington, they did.
Re-count. Its a word that many of us (all?) have come to hate. Here in Mexico, however, it doesn't hold the same sway on people. I suspect that it is because they have more faith in their system - I am sure that they don't (yet?) know the frustrations of the word.
Over the last few weeks, the World Cup has slowly approached its culmination. This Sunday will be the final showdown of this year, between France and Italy. Watching the games has been fun, as well as a nice opportunity to hone my ability to understand Spanish (although 'GOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLL' is pretty universal).
Now as many of my friends will tell you - especially the more athletic ones - I am not very much into sports. This has its own proper consequences for me, although if the second ice age ever comes, I will be more prepared for hibernation than they will (so there!). I have tried to explain to my dislike of sports, but with mixed success.
Sports are basically a battle. Not a kill or be killed battle, but at times just short of that (hockey, anyone?). There is a fine line that players must walk: they must either look at the game as a friendly way to compete in a sport that they love or they risk falling into the trap of smashing down their opponents in an effort to dominate them. Such a tightrope walk requires a strong sense of responsibility and firm character. I often marvel at many amatuer sports men & women who lack this (the stereotypical soccer mom). Quite frankly, many professional sports players lack even the vestiges of an attempt at the former and fall directly into the latter.
But the point is to win, right?
Well, yes. If I play a sport, I want to win - and I'm not going to anything less than my best, even if that means that they may lose heart at losing. And frankly, when you approach a game, you'd better darn well be able to lose - and do so without losing your temper or your self-confidence. What kind of competition is it if you don't do your best?
And herein lies our problem - the problem that everybody faces, I'm sure. Watching the World Cup, in every game I've watched, quite a few of the players in the losing teams have completely lost their composure. And this is understandable, to some extent. They've strived to get this far and the further you get, the more heartbreaking it is when you fail to reach the goal. Even moreso when you're entire life is invested in a particular sport.
But imagine what could have been. What if, instead of falling to the ground crying, the players of the losing teams had greeted the players of the winning teams with heartfelt congratulations and full composure. Sure, there will be regrets and perhaps tears, but what if those had been reserved for a private time, when those could be done without dishonoring your own efforts and especially the work of your competition? What if?
My family lived in Singapore a number of years back, and then for mere months. During that time, we were given strick admonishments on how we were to behave. Spitting in public, for example, would attract the police (to this day, I don't spit in public...). We were impressed enough that my folks wouldn't allow us kids to go anywhere without them - although at ten years old or younger, this wasn't a bad idea anyway.
The story that got us, I think, was about an American woman who behaved poorly in the primary bank that served the United States military in Singapore. Assuming the stereotypical role of an American tourist, she proceeded to get very rude and belligerent when faced with some (apparently?) unsatisfactory service. She was treated with all kindness and eventually got what she was looking for - if I'm not mistaken, the higher-ups of the bank served her themselves.
But thats not the end of the story. After she left, the powers-that-be of the bank called the powers-that-be of the military. A full apology would be offered by this woman to the bank and she would never come here again, or there would be consequences regarding the bank's continued availability to the military. Just like that, she was told (told, mind you, and by the military, not the bank) that she would do that - just before the military shipped her and her family back to the states.
I don't know if that is just a story they told us, I'm not even sure I have all the details right (I was ten, remember)[*see note below]. But the idea behind it has had a huge impact on me. The bank manager was in a bad position - presented with the rudeness of a foreigner, he could have easily threw up his hands and begun yelling. He (she?) didn't. Instead he kept his composure - his bosses kept their composure - and treated her with dignity. Then, with the same composure, I imagine, they went and made sure that such an indignation would never happen again.
They both lost (in the immediate argument) with grace and they won (in the bigger picture) with grace. No name-calling, no debasing themselves to the level of a base opponent. The picture of dignity.
Winning with grace
Obviously, winning isn't everything. And if you win, you must (not just the politically correct 'should') hold the temptation to lord it over another completely in check. If you lose, you should lose doing your best - and if an injustice has been committed, you should give your most prudent and best efforts to correcting that injustice.
But in all cases, we have to comport ourselves with dignity - honoring ourselves - and respect for others - honoring their dignity. And its not easy, not easy at all. A conversation can easily be sport of choice, where one person forcibly overcomes another. Getting that last word in is satisfying - so is laughing at another rather than engaging them.
Suddenly religion and politics (or religion and sports, for that matter), don't seem so far apart. It takes a real man, a real woman, to come into the field of any competition and do their part to maintain the dignity of all involved. Competition is not inherently bad, but it does inherently challenge our ability to do this.
Which is where grace from without comes in - grace from the Lord. What is every competing person comported his or her self with grace? That would be great - and it would mean that they were placing themselves in the hands of God, asking Him for the grace to be grace-ful.
2008 is the upcoming presidential election for the United States of America. Will the competing candidates have grace? And in our day-to-day interactions - both about these & other polarizing issues, as well our normal competitions - will we have grace? There's someone waiting to offer you that grace, if you find yourself lacking.
Peace - and grace,
[*My father (hi Dad!), was kind correct the story - which is true (!). The story is basically correct, but for the corrections, look at the comments (which are always interesting anyway]