A week from tomorrow, on Election Day in America, there will winners and losers galore. Many people will be happy but just as many will be disappointed and upset. The same thing happens over and over (although certainly not with the same price tag) every day, every week. Countless contests flood the television channels, and prizes are awarded in our schools, in athletic events, in the arts world, and on the world stage, each declaring someone a winner and someone a loser. What values do you hold about competition? What lessons are we teaching our children, consciously or not, about how to interact with others when they are on the “other” side?
More than four decades after his death, the famous Green Bay Packer coach, Vince Lombardi, is one of America’s most recognized and remembered sports figures. I have been pondering the question of just how well are we doing at living up to his most famous credo–the one that says it’s not so important whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
In my work with couples and families, no subject is out of bounds. Last week, I spoke to a family where the teenager stopped speaking to his parents because of what happened when they were watching one of the presidential debates. The mother, a staunch believer in her particular political party, was yelling at the television. She was calling one person a liar, a cheat and a scumbag. Her son asked the mom to be quiet so he could listen. A huge fight ensued that left everyone upset.
Does this sound familiar? How many households witnessed the same fireworks, or worse? Or perhaps during the World Series or the Super Bowl? It is one thing to be passionate about what you believe, and great for kids to see their parents active and involved in issues that they care about. It is quite another to be bitter and angry, attacking and blaming others, when things don’t go your way.
A recent news article by Elizabeth Cohen, Senior Medical Correspondent for CNN Health, examined the effects of bitterness on people’s health and well-being. This research finding and others are spelled out in a hefty textbook called Embitterment: Societal, Psychological and Clinical Perspectives. For the vast majority of us who will not wade through this material, here is the main point:
Bitter, angry people can make themselves sick, suffering from higher blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and other ailments. “The data that negative mental states cause heart problems is just stupendous,” said Dr.Charles Raisin from Emory University School of Medicine. The takeaway message in a nutshell: Don’t let things leave a bitter taste in your mouth if you want to stay healthy.
Bitter, angry people can also push loved ones away. The mother in the family I counseled was not trying to start a fight. She was so swept away by her feelings that she “forgot” that it was rude to make family members–particularly those with different beliefs–listen to the outpouring of her anger.
So no matter who wins or loses next week or in the next competition, think about the kind of role model you want to be in the world. Michael J. Fox could have easily become angry and embittered when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but instead became a model of courage and activism. As he so eloquently taught, “One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” When all the winning and losing starts, let’s remember to take a breath and be a model of dignity.
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Last reviewed: 29 Oct 2012