Life lessons in social graces

Winning isn’t everything. That’s one of the most important, yet most difficult, lessons that parents must teach their kids. In mid-January, our Cub Scout pack held its annual Raingutter Regatta, a fun event in which the youngsters transform bal­sa wood into tiny sailboats and then race them down a water-filled track. There were medals and trophies for the winners, but not every child got to take one home.

This year, a reporter and photog­rapher from the local newspaper covered the event. My husband, Jason, who is in his last few months as cubmaster, was quoted in the article as saying, “Learning how to lose graciously is almost harder than it is to learn how to win.”

He was talking about elementary school-age children, but the same could be said of grown-ups, too.

It’s a timely lesson our nation needs right now, especially in light of the recent election and the madness that followed. Millions of people in this country—including the outgoing president—didn’t have the result they’d hoped for. Many of them could use a few pointers on how to lose graciously. The destruc­tive Capitol breach on Jan. 6 is just one manifestation of this tension.

As this issue of Today’s Farmer goes to press, we are days away from the presidential inauguration. Between the ongoing pandemic and the threat of violence, the swearing-in ceremony for Joe Biden promises to be one of the most un­usual America has ever seen.

Washington, D.C., is under a public emergency declaration. The Capitol building where Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take the oath of office is encircled by a 7-foot-tall fence topped with razor wire and guarded by hundreds of armed National Guard troops. The National Mall, where crowds normally gather, will be closed to the public. There is no inaugural ball. The parade will be virtual. Only a limited number of attendees will be allowed to view the ceremony in person.

Trump said he won’t be there, by choice, breaking one of the cardinal rules of gracious losing—always congratulate the winner. It’s bad form. Whether you’re racing a Cub Scout regatta or running for political office, no one likes to lose. But no one likes a sore loser, either.

Only three other outgoing U.S. presidents have boycotted the cer­emony of their successors. Two of those were John Adams, who lost to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, and then John Quincy Adams, who was de­feated by Andrew Jackson in 1828. Like father, like son. The other was Andrew Johnson, who refused to at­tend Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration in 1869. Each instance followed a bitterly contested election among candidates with harshly opposing views. Sound familiar?

When he takes office, Biden has said he will work toward national unity. I’m not sure how he’s going to do it, but part of the solution is being just as gracious in victory as others should be in defeat. The perilous polarization in America isn’t healthy for our society or our democracy. Division will continue to bring us nothing but trouble.

But coming together after the election isn’t just a responsibility for government leaders. It’s up to all of us. And it should start in rural America. Farmers can be role models for unity. After all, they know how to join forces for the common good. Cooperatives such as MFA Incorpo­rated are living proof of that.

When it comes to politics, I realize peaceful collaboration is easier said than done. For agriculture, Biden is expected to take action on plenty of potentially divisive issues, from climate change and environmental policy to biofuels and trade. But his pick for USDA secretary, Tom Vilsack, said the department’s No. 1 priority is to aid in the pandemic response by reviving the rural econ­omy and addressing hunger. Focus­ing on these concerns is a good start toward unifying a hurting nation.

In one of the many articles I’ve read about the election, I ran across a term I feel describes the situa­tion perfectly: “loyal opposition.” Democracy is founded on this idea. We can agree to disagree as long as we stay true to America and its values. In that spirit, farmers and their organizations must hold the Biden administration accountable to making the best decisions possible for our industry and our nation without fostering discord that will keep anything positive from getting accomplished in Washington.

Whether you backed Biden or not, there’s no question that he is now president of the United States. Our president. Your president. For the sake of our nation, we must accept the outcome, put the past behind us and move forward.

Graciously.

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