Our culture loves winners and losers. Winners get to stick it to the losers. Losers get to complain about how they almost won. The result is continued animosity. I bet you’re thinking of time right now when you were the gloating winner, or when you witnessed a particularly bad sore loser.

I once read that life sends two things: successes to learn to celebrate (winning) and challenges to learn something (losing). Let’s look at each.

Winning after hard work feels good. Celebrate that feeling. Celebrate the hard work. Celebrate the renewed energy, focus or direction. Great reasons to celebrate.

Then remember the other side of the win-lose continuum – those who lost.

We all know that losing feels terrible. For many people, it amplifies their reactions to things. Instead of using the moment to understand what didn’t work and why they lost, their feelings are heightened, and it activates the feelings and actions of anger or helplessness. But with all feelings, they need to be controlled and managed to be productive. Venting, complaining and catastrophizing are unproductive. They keep you stuck. It is your choice, after all, how to deal with any situation in life, even losing.

Remember back to a time when you were in this space. How did you feel? The reason why life sends us losses is to help us develop our compassion and empathy for others. In our tough moments, we learn what it feels like to lose, to come in last or even second. From these experiences, we can open our hearts to those who occupy that space because we can relate to their feelings. It makes us more human and more supportive.

So let’s explore this winner-loser mentality and rethink how to be gracious whether you win or lose. Though this is an approach I believe we should implement in all aspects of our lives, I think now is the time to talk about it because of one big event coming up: the election.

Think of the election as a job interview. One of the two candidates will have more votes to “be hired” than the other. Regardless of how passionately you feel about your choice, you have to share this “hiring process” with others. They get to weigh in, sharing their own perspectives and feelings about their choice and their vote.

Stop here for a second. Having the ability to choose is a remarkable right we have. There are still many places in our world where choosing the leadership of the country is not available. Keep things in context. We are blessed to be able to vote for who we feel best can handle the CEO role of the country. A role that requires clarity, integrity, compassion and adaptability, of committing to represent everyone, including those who did not support them in their “hiring” choice.

Regardless of how you feel about the candidates in this year’s election, consider these three ways to be a gracious winner or loser:

  1. Remember we are all part of the same country and there is more that connects us than disconnects us. Candidates use the election process to highlight our differences. But when we look closer, we see there is really more that connects us. Work hard to stop looking at others as members of a political party and instead see them as caring, feeling, hardworking, family-focused Americans. Down deep, we are more similar than the election process seems to highlight. Connect with what we each want: the ability to have a safe, productive, happy, healthy and successful life, able to love our families and do good work.
  2. Support the losers and applaud the winners. The election is a deeply personal event and can activate big feelings. Acknowledge what you feel. Remember the euphoria of winning and the pain of losing. After all, you have been there for both. Then, think of those you care about who are dealing with the pain of losing. How will you be there to support them as they work through their loss and grief? And, think of those who are celebrating. How will you give them the pleasure of being in the winner’s circle and not make it about you? Learning to win and lose graciously will serve you well throughout life.
  3. Hold each other to a higher standard. Use this moment to hold yourself accountable to being your best self and encouraging others to do the same. Winners, make it your mission to catch other winners who are gloating and antagonizing the losers. Remind them of our shared values and our commitment to be citizens of the same nation and humans in our world. Losers, make it your mission to catch those who want to retaliate against the winners. Call for better behavior. Remind them of the need to be collaborators to make life work.

Sometimes in a divisive election, we can see how far off our path we wandered. How we handle what comes next will influence how we reconnect and get back on our shared vision. Everything important in life requires us all to work together. From COVID-19 to global warming to every other issue, remember these are human issues, not Republican or Democrat issues. When we commit to being better with each other, we can redirect our effort and energy to solving our challenges instead of fighting and gloating.

There is no room for those behaviors in a world that needs as much attention as ours does.

Make a commitment to be a gracious winner or loser. Then, roll up your sleeves and work together to address whatever life sends our way. We need everyone to make that happen.

So, in this moment you have a choice. How will you commit to holding yourself accountable, responsible and supportive, regardless of the results of the election? It will be in this moment that we commit to working together for our shared values and to helping all of us live wisely, healthy and well.