John McCain was a loser.
He lost his plane over Vietnam, and then he almost lost his life in a prisoner of war camp. He lost five years of freedom when he turned down the opportunity to be released early, not wanting to be treated differently and take advantage of the fact that his father was an Admiral. He also lost mobility in his upper arms due to the torture he received during those five years. He lost his marriage after he returned home, the strain of that experience being too much for them to endure. He almost lost his position as a state senator when he got linked to a banking scandal. His biggest loss, however, came from two opponents—one a fellow Republican named George W. Bush whose campaign lobbed attacks on McCain’s character in his bid for the presidential nomination, and the other an African American one-term senator named Barak Obama who defeated him for the presidency of the United States in 2008.
I heard a story today from a young friend who told me about a college-age leader who challenged him with this assignment: Find someone you normally argue with, but this time don’t argue back. Let yourself lose the argument. Experience what it feels like to lose an argument but not your dignity. Experience what it feels like to not win but still be okay because the relationship is intact.
This Saturday Barack Obama and George W. Bush will eulogize their former competitor at his funeral in Washington DC. John McCain hand-picked them before he died. He chose these two men who delivered the most crushing defeats of his political career to speak at his funeral! Who does that?
John McCain didn’t have to win every battle. His self-respect and self-regard ran so deep that he didn’t lose himself every time he lost a battle. He could let himself lose, and in the end, still demonstrate that he was the biggest winner. Jesus said to his disciples, “If you want to find your life, lose it. If you want to lose it, keep it.” He was trying to tell them that learning to lose is a major part of growing up. John McCain was a master loser and consequently one of the most mature leaders we have ever had in this country.
Somewhere along the line he stopped comparing his best with Bush’s and Obama’s worst. He stopped trying to get even. He stopped blaming. John McCain ended up winning in death what eluded him in life: the ability to bring opposites together in common cause.