Morgan O'Rourke


May 1, 2010

The day after the House of Representatives passed the health care reform bill, Sen. John McCain expressed his displeasure on an Arizona radio station. "There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year," said McCain. "They have poisoned the well in what they've done and how they've done it." In other words, GOP Senators were so offended by the bill's passage that they were refusing to work with Democrats going forward. There were even reports that Republican Senators were invoking a seldom-used rule that allows them to stop working after 2 p.m. (The rule requires unanimous consent to work past 2 p.m. or even hold hearings longer than two hours. To be fair, this is a minority tactic that has been used by Democrats in the past, as well.)

Regardless of how you feel about the legislation, this response strikes me as extremely petty, if not an actual affront to anyone who elected these people to office. Health care is certainly a big deal, but it is not the only issue facing this country. By only working half-days, if at all, they are letting down their entire constituency. If I refused to work at my job, I'm pretty sure I would quickly find myself looking for a new one. Maybe petulance and tantrums were useful strategies when we didn't get what we wanted as children, but as I recall, no one liked the "take my ball and go home" kid anyway.

Unfortunately, McCain and company are not the only sore losers to make headlines recently. Just last year, former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman was given the sore loser tag by some observers when he resorted to six months of lawsuits rather than concede defeat to challenger Al Franken in a closely contested Senatorial election.

During the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko was so outraged at losing a gold medal to American Evan Lysacek that he awarded himself an imaginary platinum medal on his website and dismissed Lysacek's victory by comparing his performance to ice dancing. "I suppose Evan needs a medal more than I do," said Plushenko.

Hip-hop impresario Kanye West has become almost as well-known for his sore loser outbursts as his music. At the 2009 MTV Music awards, he stole the microphone from country singer Taylor Swift to protest her Best Female Video win, and in 2006, after losing the Best Video Award to Justice and Simian at the MTV Europe Music Awards, he interrupted their acceptance speech with an expletive-laced tirade about how he should have won instead, proclaiming that "If I don't win, the awards show loses credibility."

Sore loser culture even affects the business world. Wal-Mart, for instance, has a history of filing suit when local regulations prevent it from expanding into a new town while stories abound of insurers going to great lengths to avoid paying claims for policies that they were more than willing to collect premiums on.

The problem with all these sore-loser stories is the example they set for subsequent generations. A lot has been made about the generation gap between Baby Boomers and so-called Millenials in the workforce. Millenials have been characterized as a generation that does not take criticism well and expects recognition and rewards that are disproportionate to their accomplishments. Experts have theorized that this mindset of entitlement comes from being raised in a politically correct, overindulgent and overprotective environment that awards gold stars and trophies just for showing up.

While there may be some truth to this assessment, I have to think that living in the era of the sore loser doesn't help. When our country's leaders are revealed as whining crybabies willing to litigate to get their way and obstruct when they can't, is it any wonder that the younger generation brings this kind of behavior into the workplace? Perhaps the generation gap isn't as wide as we believe.

The art of losing gracefully is a necessary skill for survival in the real world. But by wasting time and energy disputing past defeats, we leave ourselves no time to plan for tomorrow. As any decent risk manager knows, that is a recipe for disaster. You may be able to take your ball and go home, but there are always other balls and other games, and they will be played regardless of whether or not you are on the field.

Morgan O’Rourke is editor in chief of Risk Management and director of publications for the Risk & Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS)