The University of Kansas and Kansas State University men’s basketball teams suffered heartbreaking losses in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament and when any team endures such a loss, the intervening conversations can test the boundaries of courtesy and cruelty.
In K-State’s press conference following its loss to Wisconsin for example, Wildcats Coach Frank Martin chided a reporter for asking what he seemed to consider a harsh question. The necessity of speaking to loss can sometimes seemingly outstrip our ability to hear it.
But the truth is, speaking to loss is a challenge we all face in trying to exercise leadership. Losses do not just happen on the basketball court. There are winners and losers everyday in civic life. Just about every interchange resulting in community progress on difficult issues also means some group within it suffers some sort of loss.
I like to imagine that inside the locker room, where heads hang low and tears flow that a good basketball coach directly addresses the pain that comes with a defeat for his or her team. After all, loss is a part of life and grieving helps us move on.
Regardless of whether we play the role of an athletic coach or a concerned citizen, we can always help others in our communities — and ourselves — move on by consciously identifying and speaking to loss. It is a difficult but profoundly important act of leadership, one that can help shift the focus away from the past and toward the future.