On page 320 of Kennedy & Nixon, Chris Matthews characterizes Richard Nixon’s response to his sweeping victory in the 1972 Presidential election as follows:
“Old campaign hand Herb Klein was not alone in registering [Nixon’s] strange hibernation as evidence his boss’s resentments had returned. It was as if victory were not an occasion for reconciliation but an opportunity to revisit old wounds. Instead of celebrating in the bright light of fellowship, Nixon sat through the dark morning hours savoring with operatives Haldeman and Ehrlichman the state-by-state salute of his country that carried with it a decisive rebuke of his enemies.”
How one handles victory is as important as how one handles defeat. According to Chris Matthews’ narration, Nixon handled his 1972 victory by continuing his resentments against his enemies. Matthews narrates that Elliott Richardson tried to show Nixon that there was no “they” out to get Nixon, that Nixon won the 1972 election overwhelmingly and was now President of all of the people in the United States. But Matthews goes on to state, on page 326: “Not only was the Orthogonian Nixon unlikely to accept the counsel of a Franklin, even one he employed, but events would soon prove that there were any number of people out to get Richard Nixon.”
Whether or not that is the whole story, I don’t know, but I can see myself handling my victories and successes in a similar manner: as a way to show my detractors that I am just as good as they are, as a way to reinforce my resentments rather than an opportunity for me to be the bigger person.
As I read Matthews’ narration here, I thought back to something I heard a Bible study group leader say about a story in Luke 10. In Luke 10, Jesus sends out his disciples to preach the Gospel, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons. When they return to Jesus, all excited that the demons have submitted to them in the name of Jesus, Jesus tells them not to rejoice that the demons submit to them, but rather to rejoice that their names are written in the Book of Life. Jesus then praises God for revealing God’s truths to little children rather than the wise.
The group leader said that Jesus appeared to be spoiling the disciples’ excitement: Why can’t Jesus just let them be happy, rather than throwing a damp towel over their joy? But the leader concluded from this story that we should pray in the heart of our success. It’s easy for people to handle success badly. One could become arrogant, or use success as a way to give one a sense of self-worth, or use it as an opportunity to reinforce resentments. Praying in the heart of one’s success can hopefully temper these tendencies. As people remind themselves that there is one who is above them, and that they have worth in his eyes, perhaps they will be less likely to idolize success, both when they have it, and when they don’t. At least one would hope!