“I cannot describe it. I cannot give you any idea of the kindness, and generosity, and magnanimity of those men. When I think of it, it brings tears into my eyes.” -Charles Marshall, Aide de Camp to General Robert E. Lee
General Lee was wearing a new dress uniform, complete with a red sash and exquisite gold studded sword. Grant, who had not expected the surrender to happen so quickly, was in rough field garb, speckled with mud from riding to the McLean House. When Lee made the decision to surrender, he had said, “there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” But not a trace of his anguish could be seen as the two men sat across from each other as the Civil War drew to a close. Grant reflected on that meeting:
“What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing over the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered much for a cause.”
The men conversed genially for a time before getting down to business. Grant had no desire to add to the humiliation of the man who was 16 years his senior. He did not take Lee’s sword, allowed the Confederate officers to retain their sidearms, the soldiers to keep their horses and mules for spring planting on their farms, and all the Confederate army to return to their homes free men, if they pledged never again to take up arms against the Union. He also offered to give 25,000 rations to Lee’s starving soldiers.
The two generals parted cordially after their meeting. As Lee mounted his horse, Grant doffed his hat in respect, and his officers followed suit. Lee tipped his hat in return and rode off.
4 years. 625,000 deaths. And yet one man was able to accept defeat with dignity. And the other was able to claim victory with grace.
Grant and Lee were examples of true gentleman. And yet how often do we struggle with doing likewise in the comparably small losses and wins of our lives? How often do we fall into the trap of being the angry sore loser or the smug victor?
In this two part series, we will first look at how to lose with dignity. We will then explore how to celebrate with grace.How to Lose with Dignity
Accept responsibility for the loss.
A boy blames everyone and everything but himself when he loses—the refs made bad calls, the teacher had it out for him, somebody else must have cheated. A man takes responsibility for what happened.
Bow out gracefully.
No one respects the man who’s still howling for another recount even after the votes have been fairly tallied or the man who’s still pleading to go double or nothing once he’s gotten into a hole. Once you’ve lost, bow out with your dignity intact.
When General Lee realized he had no choice but to surrender and informed his officers of his decision, one lamented, “O General, what will history say of the surrender of the army in the field?”
“Yes, I know, they will say hard things of us; they will not understand how we were overwhelmed by numbers; but that is not the question, Colonel; the question is, is it right to surrender this army? If it is right, then I will take all the responsibility.”
Acknowledge the winner.
At the conclusion of the 2010 Superbowl, Peyton Manning moped off the field without shaking the hand of opposing quarterback Drew Brees and those of the victorious Saints.