On loss

by The Editor

SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. Loss is as much a part of democratic life as victory but a far harder outcome to accept. And many resist it, long after it is no longer negotiable. Not accepting it is, of course, one thing but to try change the rules in order to negate it, far more problematic behaviour.

On loss

By: Gareth van Onselen

5 March 2012

Competition, a foundational principle inherent to any democratic order, produces loss, In order for choice properly to be exercised, at the end of a democratic process designed to differentiate between two or more options, one choice is generally favoured over another. And, when one’s choice it not endorsed, accepting that outcome is a democratic necessity; for it is to legitimate not only choice but, often, excellence too.

That is not easy. There is a finality to loss, an absolute certainty, which can be a bitter pill to swallow. Once a final outcome has been determined, there is nowhere left to turn; that loss and, with it, an inevitable sense of rejection, can feel immensely disempowering. And how one responds to it says much about their commitment both to choice and progress.

With regards to the latter: loss is a chance to recalibrate and, from there, to move forward. Embraced as an opportunity to change or improve, it can be the catalyst for progress. However, if indulged, loss can have the opposite effect – and become an obstacle to betterment, a barrier through which some personal weight does not allow one to move, dragged down by insecurity and self doubt.

Those unprepared to accept loss often hold a position of power and its addictive effect is to suggest to them loss not only improbable but unjust. Loss inflicted upon them is to cut from their diet the very thing they have come solely to survive upon and they react with venom and anger.

But they are caught in a trap – having agreed beforehand to a set of democratic parameters they must ostensibly pay homage to loss, as a fair result. They do so with gritted teeth and, behind the scenes, plot a change in rules.

They are the enemies not only of best democratic practice but everything that competition necessitates: tolerance, excellence, progress and, significantly, introspection.

Gareth van Onselen writes in his personal capacity. He is employed by the DA as a Director of Political Analysis and Development. An abbreviated version of this column first appeared in the Business Day.