Sunday, 27 April 2014

On Failure

In certain classrooms in North America, teachers are discussing the existence of failure. The fact that one does not always succeeding in whatever one does in life. And that is OK. In a culture where nothing succeeds like success, how did it come to this? Here’s one explanation.

Please note: By young adult I mean anyone over the age of 15, old enough to read Emily Dickinson as well as P.G. Wodehouse and appreciate the beauty of both (in theory).

Scenario one:
A young adult gets ticked off in class. After class she logs on to Facebook and decries the “injustice” she has faced. Immediately gets a 100 likes and her hurt feelings are assuaged. One would like to point out that that’s 100 out of 6 billion, but one is too stunned by the parents (and their friends) applauding her rant. How about a chat on ‘learning from criticism’. Or for that matter the perils of writing out loud in anger that leads to loss of perspective. And grammar in today's world.

Scenario two:
A young adult writes a term paper and will go on to write countless more in the (at the least) 6 years she’ll spend in college. But the parents share it far and wide– a term paper on dialectic materialism or some such is suddenly deemed worthy of a Pulitzer. (Good luck dealing with rejection that is the one constant fact in every writer’s life, dear young woman.) I recall my college days. My parents would have said a simple well done and then directed me towards Stephen Jay Gould or Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness to widen my perspective. In short, encouraged me to read more and write better. That is if I had been silly enough to consider a term paper as something they deserved to suffer through too.

What I mean to point out is that there is a difference between encouragement and unfettered praise which is merely setting up someone for gigantic failure and heartbreak. A little jab of honesty is always better than a  lifelong burden that is a lie. What we are witnessing is a parenting fail perhaps. It seems parents are involved in ever minor, meaningless aspect of their child's 'education' but shield the child from the harsher lessons of life.

So we end up projecting mixed messages. On one hand we say, “You are a genius”. Then the young adult comes face to face with differential calculus: 
And we promptly produce the meme about how a fish can’t ride a bicycle and so on to prove everyone is different. However, no one tells the young adult that intelligence is neither inborn, nor an entitlement but something learned. It involves lots of hard work. And sometimes, no matter how hard we try it still eludes us. Just like life.

For parents in the above mentioned scenarios, here’s J.K. Rowling beautiful commencement speech on the ‘The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination’.

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