Lose with Dignity. Celebrate with Grace. (Part II)

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 14, 2011 · 29 comments

in A Man's Life, On Etiquette

Miss Part I? Read it here.

On December 31, 1967, the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys met on Lambeau Field for the NFL Championship. Later dubbed the “Ice Bowl,” temperatures hovered at 13 degrees below zero, the turf was as hard as rock, whistles stuck in referees’ mouths, and members of the halftime band were sent to the hospital for hypothermia. It remains the coldest NFL game on record.

For sixty minutes, these rival teams duked it out, with each player digging deep to summon the fortitude to battle both the cold and the opposing team. With sixteen seconds left in the game, the Cowboys held a 17-14 lead, and the Packers had the ball. On 3rd and goal, Bart Starr executed a quarterback sneak with offensive lineman Jerry Kramer giving him the block needed to get into the end zone and win the game. The Packers had made it to another Super Bowl.

That block has been called the greatest in NFL history. Yet Kramer didn’t dance around or pull a Sharpie out of his sock to sign an instant autograph; he simply walked off the field.

There was no need for such outward expressions–the satisfaction of a hard-fought win was enough.

How to Celebrate with Grace

Last time, we talked about how to lose with dignity.

It’s a difficult thing to do, but in some ways, it can actually be easier than celebrating with grace. When you win a great victory or attain a noteworthy achievement, it’s hard to strike the balance between genuinely enjoying your success and not adding to your opponent’s misery or coming off as a smug braggart. Here are some recommendations on how to walk that line.

Should you celebrate publicly or privately?

This is one of the big questions people struggle with in regards to celebrating with grace–should you display your adulation publicly or keep it to yourself?

The answer to that question depends on what kind of accomplishment it is, and whether you are in direct competition with those around you.

When an accomplishment is of the type that places people into “classes,” (things like grades, salary raises, promotions, and try-outs) it is generally better to keep your celebration private (to be enjoyed by yourself and close family and friends). So for example, when the teacher hands you back an A+ paper, there is no need for a whoop and a fist pump–just smile and put the paper away. The more competitive something is, the more true this rule becomes–which is why people never talked about their GPA or rank in law school.

Rubbing your win in your competitors’ faces in these situations will not make your achievement any more real–it is merely an attempt to stroke your ego and tends to create rancor with your peers.

Of course there are situations where it is appropriate to celebrate in front of your opponents–such as the award ceremony or sports game–as the competition is the raison d’être for these events, as opposed to being unspoken.

Even when your success can appropriately be celebrated publicly, use discretion, particularly when using social networks like Facebook and Twitter. These mediums have made news-sharing so easy that some folks have gotten confused about what constitutes actual news. Most people genuinely want to hear about what’s going on in your life and your success, they just don’t think that having an awesome bowel movement constitutes a singular achievement.

Appreciate those who helped make it happen.

The humble man realizes that even when praise for a victory falls entirely on him, there were people along the way who helped make it happen. The star player thanks the team; the boss thanks his employees.

Show gratitude in general.

Celebrations come off as smug when the victor acts as if he were entitled to the success he’s found. The dignified man is proud of the work he did to get where he is, while also being forever grateful that he was in the right spot at the right time and a confluence of factors came together in his favor.

Acknowledge the loser.

Shake the hand of your fallen opponent. If you chat, focus on the game itself, instead of on the outcome. And as an old Esquire etiquette guide advises, “In the conventional exchange of remarks at game’s end, the good loser compliments the winner on his skill and the good winner sympathizes with the loser on his luck.”

Don’t disparage your victory.

The man who trivializes his win can be as much of a pain as the one who lords it over you. While acting like you didn’t deserve to win or it isn’t a big deal might seem like the “nice” thing to do or something that will deflect attention, it only ends up making the victor look even better–”Not only did he win, he’s so above it all he doesn’t even care!” And it adds insult to your opponent’s injury. As a loser, I want to know I was a worthy foe, and that you actually wanted to win, because I certainly did!

When George C. Scott won an Oscar in 1970 for his portrayal of George S. Patton in the film that bore the general’s name, Scott became the first person to turn down an Academy Award, saying he was not in competition with other actors and that the ceremony constituted a “two hour meat parade.” This surprising move put more attention on Scott, not less (it dominated the news for a couple of weeks–even garnering the cover of Time), and it sent a message to the other nominees that not only did they lose the award, they were losers for even caring about winning!

Share in the rewards.

When a gambler makes money, he often tips the dealer. It’s good karma. When something good happens to you, spread the love. If you get a great promotion at work, take all of your friends out for drinks on you.

Don’t do the “humble brag.”

Some people try to split the difference between celebrating something, and not wanting to boast, by employing the “humble brag.” The humble brag is where you’re really boasting about something, but you try to disguise this fact by throwing in a complaint or a self-deprecating aside.

Humble bragging is especially popular on social outlets like Twitter and Facebook. Here are some examples compiled by the Twitter account Humblebrag:

Humble brags are so prevalent on things like Twitter and Facebook because folks sometimes use these platforms not to share updates, but to craft a persona and shape the way others see them. A humble brag is typically used online in order to share “news” that isn’t really news at all, but serves to show people that you’re doing something cool, and you’re the kind of person who does X.

Whether you’re sharing news of your success in the real world or online, it’s best to deliver it straight up. You may worry about coming off as smug, but it’s actually better to come off as smug, than to appear as someone who’s smug but trying to hide it. People are more annoyed by duplicity than pride.

Really, the best rule to follow here is one that will serve you well in all areas of your life: if you feel you have to cover up what you’re doing, even a little, that’s a sign you shouldn’t be doing it at all.

Resist the “How do you like me now?!” impulse.

When you achieve something that people all along the way doubted you could do, it’s very tempting to rub it in their faces. “How do you like me now, haters?!” And undoubtedly, talking about the obstacles that stood in your way on the road to the top can be appropriate, especially when it serves as inspiration to others. It’s neat to hear that some successful upstart got turned down 30 times by investors before becoming a billionaire dollar biz. But this shouldn’t be the focus of your celebration; otherwise, this behavior inevitably makes you look bitter and tarnishes your reputation.

Exhibit A: Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech. Jordan could have given a speech like those who preceded him the night he was inducted—John Stockton and David Robinson. Their speeches were filled with gratitude for those who had helped them during their illustrious careers. Instead, Jordan used his speech to criticize the teammates who froze him out of the 1985 All-Star game when he was a rookie, the college coach who chose other players to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the Bulls general manager for saying that organizations and not individuals win championships. He even flew out the now grown man that his high school coach had bumped him off the varsity team for his sophomore year, just to be able to point to him and say to his old coach, “I wanted to make sure you understood: You made a mistake, dude.” That was his message to everyone: “Haha—you guys were wrong!” But Jordan’s record already said that loud and clear; showing he was still bothered by such slights made him seem petty instead of magnanimous.

Don’t punish the loser further.

The victory is enough; there’s no need to kick a rival when he’s down.

After General Lee surrendered at Appomattox and General Grant shared the news with his troops, the men started shooting their guns in victory. Grant asked them to cease firing, saying, “The war is over, the rebels are again our countrymen, and the best way of showing our rejoicing will be to abstain from all such demonstrations.”

He also decided not to go through Richmond on his return to Washington D.C., as he did not wish to do “anything at such a time that would add to [the South’s] sorrow.”

Some folks cannot be helped.

It’s gentlemanly to want to avoid coming of as Smugly McSmugs Alot and to make an effort to celebrate with grace. But keep in mind that no matter how tactfully you handle your success, there are always going to be folks who feel you’re stuck up. They’re jealous and projecting those feelings on you. Don’t worry about it.

Lose with Dignity, Celebrate with Grace

The ability to lose with dignity and celebrate with grace is rare in our society, but examples of gentlemanliness remain. Case in point: Delaware’s “Return Day.”

The Return Day tradition started in 1791 when Georgetown was established as Delaware’s County Seat. Residents of Sussex County had to travel there on Election Day to cast their ballots. Two days later after the votes had been tallied, folks returned to Georgetown to hear the results announced. Carnival-esque festivities attended the reading of the winners.

The tradition still continues today. On the Thursday after Election Day, businesses and schools close and Delawareans from all over the state converge on Georgetown for the Return Day festivities. There’s an ox roast, a hatchet-throwing contest between town mayors, and a most unique parade.

The winners and the losers of each political race put aside the rancor of the election and sit together in horse-drawn carriages that make their way through town. And then the chairmen of the Sussex County Republican and Democratic parties meet together to literally bury the hatchet. Each grasps the handle of a hatchet, and together they plunge the weapon in a box of sand.

A great tradition, I think. For it symbolizes the fact that makes it possible for each of us to lose with dignity and celebrate with grace: no matter how small or large the contest, life goes on.



{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wilson September 14, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I love the bit about humble brags. I’ve coined my own term for this (paradoxical subtlety) because I knew so many people who did this in real life. They weren’t fooling anyone.

2 Eric September 14, 2011 at 1:58 pm
3 J Medina September 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm

This is a great article. Stating the fact that you will have haters in spite of your attempts to win with grace is highlighted by the fact in spite of Grant not throwing the norths victory in the souths face, they are still pissed 150 years later…

4 Jeffrey Armando Vasquez September 14, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Great post. I especially appreciate the segment on humble bragging. I think too much emphasis is placed on nurturing swagger in young men rather than cultivating character and strength of manliness. Your site has inspired me to start my own blog about fatherhood and education called The craft of fatherhood.

5 CB September 14, 2011 at 3:17 pm

@J Medina: Don’t forget that Grant torched several towns and cities on his way to Appomattox. He was smart, cunning, and courageous commander. He did right by realizing that the rebels were once again brothers and not rubbing the victory in their face. But he did things we would consider horrible as well.
I’m not defending the attitude of the people you describe. I am pointing out that you rarely hear all of the facts from any one source. You must be careful, then before you pass judgement on your brothers.

6 Dave September 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Coach Darrel Royal said it all, “When you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”

7 Daren Redekopp September 14, 2011 at 4:07 pm

What I love about this post is that it implies that there is something higher than our evolutionary drive for dominance: charity.

8 Dan F September 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I like how you shed light on the gray areas; humble-brags and not accepting the win.

9 Bobby September 14, 2011 at 5:24 pm

When you win, you assure your place above your defeated opponent with mocking and trash talk. Witnesses will not doubt your dominance, and as we all know the dominant man gets the resources- both material and reproductive.

10 Xenocles September 14, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I’m surprised there was nothing in there about running up the score. I’m not against it personally – to me letting up on your opponent is enormously disrespectful. I could see situations where it might be strategically important, as in resting key players to keep them safe. But letting up just because you are dominating doesn’t seem right to me. Grace after the contest is imperative, but as long as there’s a competition on I feel like it ought to be all out on both sides.

11 Mike September 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm

This is something I sometimes struggle with. Sometimes it is hard to supress the “how do you like me now!?” especially when you opponents are poor sports. It is a process, one which I have been getting better at, but am by no means perfect. I have also been guilty on several occasions of the “humble brag”. While I haven’t always been the best sport, I have always admired good sportsmanship. In football, when players don’t celebrate after a touchdown or a big hit… or in basketball after a nice shot, it really shows class. I refuse to watch basketball because of the amount of braggarts, and I am really on the edge when it comes to football. It seems like after every play someone acts like they cured cancer… seriously.

12 Daren Redekopp September 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Thanks for your transparency, Mike. I also admire good sportsmanship. While the physical agility of great athletes is awe-inspiring to a certain degree, a great sportsman displays an entirely higher kind of agility––like an agility of virtue.

13 Mike Haydon September 14, 2011 at 9:06 pm

So true about celebrating when appropriate! Last season we were the minor premiers in our soccer league and were unbeaten for 5 consecutive seasons. In the grand final last season we were beaten in a penalty shootout. Sure we were bitterly disappointed, but what really ticked us off was that the other side acted like it was no big deal. They’d just won the grand final!

14 Rick September 15, 2011 at 5:09 am

I was on a business trip awhile back to San Antonio, where my host invited me to a local bar with a few of his friends. When playing darts, I was teamed with a ‘gentleman’ who was an absolute ass when it came to competition. Screaming when he missed, insisting on high-fives every single throw. It drove me nuts. I’d be scared to see what he was like at a ballgame.


15 Danny September 15, 2011 at 9:22 am

I hear ya. I have had some similar experiences. Guys like that just ruin the fun for everyone, including themselves. If they lose they are completely miserable and upset for the rest of the day. There is nothing wrong with winning but being an ass about it ruins it for everyone!

16 Michael September 15, 2011 at 10:19 am

While I appreciate the lesson of the George C. Scott example, I think the case is presented somewhat out of context. Scott made attempts to resolve the matter privately, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to respect his wishes.

Consider the following excerpt, taken from “Show Business: Meat Parade” (Time Magazine, Monday, March 8, 1971). Granted, the author of this editorial is clearly biased and sympathetic with Scott’s decision.

“Hollywood never learns. Or anyway, it forgets easily. Ten years ago, George C. Scott received his second nomination for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for The Hustler. He sent a wire to the Academy and quietly declined. He still remains unimpressed by Oscars. Nominated once again, as Best Actor for his part in Patton, Scott once again dispatched a telegram.
“It read in part, ‘I respectfully request that you withdraw my name from the list of nominees. My request is in no way intended to denigrate my colleagues. Furthermore, peculiar as it may seem, I mean no offense to the Academy. I simply do not wish to be involved.’ It was a polite request. Elsewhere, however, Scott was a little more explicit. ‘The whole thing is a goddam [sic] meat parade,’ he said. ‘I don’t want any part of it.’
“There has been no rush on the part of the other nominees to withdraw from Hollywood’s yearly orgy of self-congratulation.”

It seems that George C. Scott’s behavior was the product of principled conviction. While the “meat parade” comment is regrettable and was probably said in the heat of the moment, one can understand his sense of frustration. He attempted to resolve the matter quietly, repeatedly, and the Academy failed to respect his wishes.

While we might blame Scott for spoiling the mood of the party, I think the Academy is ultimately responsible for this episode. Once nominated, Scott attempted to remove his name from consideration for the award. His telegram displays sensitivity for how the withdrawal of his nomination might be perceived by others, and he explicitly indicated that his intention was not to dismiss the achievements of other actors, or to offend the Academy. If the Academy had respected his wishes and withdrawn his nomination, Scott never would have received the award, and he never would have been placed in the awkward position to refuse to accept it.

17 BigMan September 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Great post! It’s easy to forget how silly it sounds to others when you show off. I remember being embarrassed about fist pumping after my first heli-ski of K2, my jet pilot just shook his head at me when I boarded for the ride home that afternoon–the fact that my third IPO was such a success didn’t serve to lift my spirits at all.

18 Andrew from Canada September 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm

In Canada, -13 F is -25 C! That’s even colder than an average January night in Toronto!

19 Rob Dyson September 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I too, like Jeffrey Vasquez, have been educated and inspired by your work here. Check out my blog and let me know what you think. It’s similar to yours with a bit more theology. I would really appreciate your input. I’m not trying to make any money off of it. I just want a forum for me, my friends, and anyone else, to be able to discuss (mainly) man-centered issues. Thanks.

20 JJ September 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Eh, I’m not sure how context of Scott’s decision excuses his behavior. The idea that a Hollywood actor–the most public profession there is–could “privately” resolve the the issue is sort of ridiculous. If the Academy had dropped his name from the running for nomination, people would have cried foul–Patton was been a big film, and people would have lambasted the Academy for not nominated him. The truth would have come out still. And it still would have been a big story that sucked up all the attention. And even if, yes, the Academy didn’t honor his wishes, I think a gentleman would have just been a sport about it. Yes, a man’s got to have conviction, but this is not a moral or ethical dilemma, just a man being a primma donna. My two cents.

21 deirdre September 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm

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22 Michael September 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm

@JJ (September 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm):

Fair points, but I think it’s difficult for us to accurately judge what George C. Scott’s motivations were. Granted, Scott viewed his profession with a somewhat elitist attitude; he considered screen acting in films to be far inferior to stagecraft, as an art form. Moreover, he was a deeply troubled person: angry, self-loathing and heavy-drinking.

Mostly, I thought it was worth presenting another side to the story. The dead cannot speak to defend their reputations.

23 StephanieB September 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Great post! I know this post is generally directed toward men, but alot of these concepts are universal and I get alot out of it! I really appreciated in this post that it’s better to say it like it is rather than cover up with a humblebrag, which when you read them are obviously ridiculous. Thanks for reminding me how to win with grace!

24 Steven September 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Big Man, is that a “humble brag?”

25 Mr.Ed September 17, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Steven September 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm
Big Man, is that a “humble brag?” – show ’nuff was!

I liked all the points – especially including everyone in the credit. Sure, maybe you could have done it without them, but how difficult would it have been, would it have been as much of a success.

“Running up the score” – I am torn on that one. In general, I’m thinking it very unmanly to continue past a point where the opponent has no realist chance of regaining the ground. Ditto on more usual “physical interaction” with strangers – if you gut-punch some fool for swearing at your old lady at the club, you DON’T have to beat them to a pulp. Unmanly.

On the other hand, if you have a particularly braggadocious opponent, or someone was say, unremittantly vulgar or threatening to you(or a loved one), running up the score on the board (or the side of their head) might be very manly.

26 Taylor Smith September 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I will never understand why so many people seem to enjoy schadenfreude more than the feeling of winning. And good point about those who downplay their achivements, and in the process denigrate their opponents.

27 Nate September 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm

In Proverbs, it says ‘Let another praise you and not your own mouth; someone else and not your own lips.” Especially when it comes to social media/Internet, I think this verse is incredibly useful to remember. While it is OK to share in excitement — “what a great win today!” or “Got the job!” — there really isn’t a way to publicize on your own platform (twitter, facebook, etc.) about an award without sounding self-serving.

There is a time and place to properly acknowledge an award and thank those who helped make it possible, but that place is not in social media.

I speak from experience: a co-worker last year publicized on all social media platforms he had (twitter, facebook, his personal blog) about a statewide award he had won (competing against many fellow employees; I wasn’t involved). It was the humble brag stuff (‘I’m so honored to win this award’), but he quickly ostracized himself from the entire office. So much so that he eventually had a falling out with his immediate bosses, and within six weeks of winning a prestigious award (and it was), he was basically forced out of his job for bragging about winning. It reminded us all of the importance of how to act on social media platforms.

28 Mantuitive September 21, 2011 at 12:47 pm

The humble brag analysis was really incisive. It got me thinking about the way that social media, and media in general has altered the way we conduct ourselves in our personal and professional lives. In short, fame has become a form of currency and there are many people who are all about accruing more and more of it. That could be a wide receiver doing an endzone celebration or a sales executive who just landed a big account and wants to brag about it via twitter. Somehow getting recognition has become more important than actual accomplishment. To paraphrase ‘The Wire’, “We used to make things in this country. Now we just make ourselves into things.”

29 Frank September 27, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Great stuff.

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