Essays

When you win, you lose

They argued, day after day, and night after night.
Over things little and big; enormous and minute.
Finally, at the end of it, the right hand said to the left:
“Why must I be small for you to feel large?
Why must I be weak for you to feel strong?”

I love those questions because too often, when we are caught up in the tumult of a disagreement that quickly morphs into an argument that then transforms, finally, and most painfully, into a fight, we circle and circle, we tussle and struggle, and lose all sight of the goals and all sense of what is at risk, and then we are just determined to win.

And what is winning, most especially when we are engaged in gladiatorial combat with a lover, a sibling, a parent, a spouse, a coworker, a boss, a child – in any relation, in any context, and in any sort of world?

Winning in that way, when you have gotten lost in the fog of war itself, is a declaration that someone must lose. And that loss, at that point, is always of face – of status, of character, of self-esteem.

When we fight in that way, when we fight with only the goal of a win, we are saying:

You must become weak so that I may feel strong.
You must make yourself smaller so that I may feel large.

And once you have made those statements, whether verbally uttered them (“I must be in control! It is my right!”) or you have implied them through your actions (refusing to discuss, to meet, to hear an opinion different than yours, to speak about outcomes versus quibbling about the past and the whys and the ignoring the requests or devaluing the ask), you cannot take those utterances back.

Yes, in time, the other person may forgive you. As long as you are both still alive, there is a chance for that.

How many times must you batter them in the face for them to say: “Enough! You have won this battle, but you have lost the war, because I will no longer do this again with you.”

How many times do you think you have before they say: “Enough! You have won this battle, but you have lost the war, because I have no desire to forgive you.”

How many times do you think until a person is worn down and defeated and says: “Enough! You have won this battle, but you have lost the war, because I never want to see your face again.”

Yes, in time, even that final statement may be reversed. As long as you are both still alive, there is a chance, but a very small one.

Have care for what you believe your rights are; have care for your level of self-possession. When your discomfort with difference of opinion or how one should live their life becomes a thing you take personally, be careful. For, if that excessive sense of self-righteousness forces you into a position where you allow a disagreement to become an argument, an argument to escalate to a fight, then a fight to mushroom into all-out war–

You likely will win the battle, especially when against someone who does not tie their self-worth into winning. (Oh, you didn’t notice that is what happened here, that you have tossed your value of who you are with all the other things in this mix?)

But you will lose the war. And with it, eventually, the person with whom you are warring. You may lose them because you break their spirit; you may lose them because you break their body; you may lose them because they leave you.

But you will lose. Your petty win will really have become a brutal loss. A permanent one.

Now, are you large enough? Now, are you strong?

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