Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Individual Failure Is Not The End Of The World

Human Achievement


Success is not final, failure is not fatal: 
it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

― Winston Churchill


Machines fail, but so do humans. With machines, you can either replace a part, or get a new one. Not so with humans. It is both inevitable and necessary for human growth and understanding  Yet, failure has become a dirty word, notably to today's generation of parents, who as group go to great lengths to shield their children from any possibility of failure. An essay is needed for school, a parent will write it for their child, even if it takes all night; a job or college application, the same thing; if a child does not receive the requisite "A" in a subject, the parent will rush off and argue on behalf of the child's genius, undetected of course by the teacher.  Noble, good parents. Not really. 

As a parent of three children, including two who are still in public school, I can understand the temptation to "help" children achieve success.  But I resist such temptations for good reasons, chiefly because I know from my personal experience that failure actually builds character, and without failure, children do not understand success.  Or the courage to continue and press forward in the face of adversity. As with all, if not many, life's lessons, without experience and necessary trials and errors, including painful failure, the lesson is not learned. It's better to learn such lessons as a youngster than as an older man or woman.

So, parents are doing no favours for their children if they do not allow them to learn the necessary life lessons of failure. Which great historical figure has never failed, be it a scientist, a musician or a writer?What we are referring to here is something that psychologists call resilience. It's true that some children (and adults) are more resilient than others. What would "crush" one individual will spur another individual to try harder. 

In a Psycholgy Today posting ("The Art of Resilience"; May 2003),  Hara Estroff Marano writes:
One problem is, there are elements of our culture that glorify frailty, says Washington, D.C. psychiatrist Steven Wolin, M.D. There is a whole industry that would turn you into a victim by having you dwell on the traumas in your life. In reality you have considerable capacity for strength, although you might not be wholly aware of it.
Sometimes it is easier to be a victim; talking about how other people make you do what you do removes the obligation to change. And sympathy can feel sweet; talk of resilience can make some feel that no one is really appreciating exactly how much they have suffered.
Wolin defines resiliency as the capacity to rise above adversity—sometimes the terrible adversity of outright violence, molestation or war—and forge lasting strengths in the struggle. It is the means by which children of troubled families are not immobilized by hardship but rebound from it, learn to protect themselves and emerge as strong adults, able to lead gratifying lives.
Resilient people don't walk between the raindrops; they have scars to show for their experience. They struggle—but keep functioning anyway. Resilience is not the ability to escape unharmed. It is not about magic.
No, it's about not giving in to ideas of victim-hood and self-pity that many social scientists and writers have said emanate from the Therapy Culture, which often dominate our public discourse, including an over-reaction to normal children's behaviour, labelling everything as "bullying"; it's about rising above such insidious and soul-destroying thoughts and doing the necessary work to become the whole integrated individual that desires success. Everybody fails at one time or another. Everybody. It's what you do and learn from such failures that will ultimately determine, how you eventually view the world. Such is the conventional thinking and applies most of the time.

There are exceptions, however. As much as individual failure can teach us lessons about ourselves and be instructive, a life dominated by failure is self-defeating and destructive.  Such people fade way. You never hear about such persons; they do not get our attention—e.g, the failed artists, writers and musicians, who despite their talent, never garnered public attention or appreciation. Such might be a failure on the part of society to take note, but that's a subject for another time. I'm tired now and must go.