Grace in Defeat Trumps All

Knight's armor
Knight's armor

As I watched the US election results make their agonizing progress to the end, the lines of a poem came to my mind.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rave at close of day

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This poem by Dylan Thomas, who himself died tragically at the age of thirty-nine, is practically an anthem to all those who struggle against insurmountable odds. Incidentally, this poem is made use of very effectively in the iconic movie ‘Interstellar’, where it is used as a weapon against the apparent futility of trying to save humans when the earth is dying.

When Trump’s numbers began to lose traction in one, two, three, and four states, he could have conceded. His time was up and he could have quit gracefully. But Trump being, well, Trump, no one seriously expected him to concede. But filing lawsuits and worse, to allege election fraud, seemed to be sinking his basic nature to a whole different level. 

However, at that point, a quiet voice in my brain said, “Why not?” Why should Trump not fight until every last vestige of power is taken away from him? After all, in 2000, Al Gore found himself conceding and then took it back when votes began to sing a different song. From the moment of conception and until the moment of death, we are engaged in a constant fight for survival, though it is not always apparent. Therefore, why should not a person fight, especially when there is a chance around, however wraithlike? 

‘Everybody loves a lover’ sang Doris Day. But it is also true to say that everybody loves a fighter, maybe even more than a lover. Looking at a person who doesn’t give up or give in lends hope to other people who are fighting insurmountable odds themselves. The very thought that there is someone else out there who’s not going to take whatever is handed to him is inspiring.

In his poem ‘If’ Rudyard Kipling exalts the fighter thus:

And so hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ After all, we do know that we will have to surrender in the end. As a Viking saying goes, “It’s better to stand and fight. If you run away, you’ll only die tired.”

On the other hand, to accept defeat gracefully – that is a quality that puts man among saints. It is not lame to surrender, say great minds, it is a great strength. ‘They are the chosen ones, who surrender,’ says Rumi. “Peace requires us to surrender our illusion of control,” said Jack Kornfield. In William Booth’s opinion, “The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender”. 

Then it came to me that it is a question of preserving your dignity and self-respect. It is hard to hold yourself erect when you are fighting. However, in the honorable fight, it is okay to lose your dignity, since the fight itself is in the cause of it. But, in every fight, there is a tipping point, a point at which you know that you’re definitely going to lose. There is no point in surrendering before that point is reached because there of the chance that you may win and uphold your dignity. And there is no point in fighting after you know you’re definitely going to lose, because you’ll not only lose the fight, you’ll also lose your dignity. 

Therefore, it is in your own best interests that you stop fighting when there is absolutely no hope of victory. No one said it better than the great Kenny Rogers: “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away.”

But where is that tipping point? How does one find it?

Aah, those are some of the questions that truly matter in life. One of the hallmarks of the greatness of the human spirit is the ability to know where that tipping point is. This ability comes from soul-searching honesty that doesn’t shy away from even the bitterest of truths. At that point, surrender brings a deep and abiding peace, since the battle was well-fought, but ended before it cost too much. 

I used to think that all of us have this ability, but I guess I just learned that some of us … just don’t.


Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

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