So in my last post I talked about the positive side of failures. Shortly after posting it I however noticed, that I forgot about the other half of the story. While being self-contained, this status at least cried for something like an addendum.
While the last post was more focused on the personal level, this one will take a look at the bigger context, namely the relationship to failures in our society.
As a little disclaimer I have to add that this post is just my opinion on this topic at the current point in time, based on experiences and tales of other people. So it will be pretty subjective.
Back In School
Some people may know that I didn’t necessarily have the best time back in school. And part of that had also to do with failures.
So let me first ask you, what happened to you, when you failed in school? Well… I especially remember one situation back in fifth or sixth class, where I failed to solved a math equation on the black board and I was called stupid by the teacher. And that wasn’t an exception. Stuff like that happened a lot in my school and not only to me. Of course there were also teacher that didn’t do that. But in my opinion that is something that should never happen. Teachers also have a pedagogic mandate. And calling someone stupid isn’t pedagogic. It just helps to develop an unhealthy relationship to failures.
What a teacher in fact should say, is something along the lines: “You can do better!” And some teachers, I would call them the good teachers, did this.
But I guess at least I was lucky that my parents never punished my for failures in school.
Later In Life
So what’s after school… E.g. in university, vocational training and job life? I would say, that failures are mostly something we try to avoid, because the stakes are often very high.
Let’s get back to my recent failure in university. If I won’t pass the re-exam, it isn’t just an academic failure for me. It might also cause me financial troubles. Not passing the re-exam would probably mean an extension of my time as a student, which in itself is not the worst thing. But as I’m dependent on BAföG (federal support for students) and I won’t get that anymore after my fourth semester, I’ll have to see, how I will pay for my life after that.
And yes… I’m also already working, nine hours per week at the moment. But that’s not enough for rent, other bills and food together. Well, I could work more. But my time is limited. More hours of work per week also mean less time for doing homework and learning. You see the catch-22?
Right now I’m saving money for the probably one semester, where I won’t get the BAföG anymore. This could work. But I’m kind of damning myself for picking hard courses at the university instead of ones, where I already know most of the stuff and the chance of failure would be much lower.
What I’m trying to say, is that failure isn’t so “nice” anymore, if it’s actually coupled to your survival, today your ability to pay your bills. And I don’t say, that failures shouldn’t have its consequences, but sometimes not avoiding failure is a luxury you don’t have.
And I think it’s always a bit cynical when romantic stories about failure come from people in very privileged positions. That doesn’t mean, that their stories are wrong, it just means, that different people have different relationships to failures depending on their personal circumstances.
How We Treat Failures In Others
The most damning thing however might be our relationship to failures of other people and not our own. Of course the example earlier with teachers in school also fits into this box. It’s anyway always easier to judge other people than oneself.
And while it’s OK to relate to other through failures, I don’t think it’s nice behavior to just wait for the failure of others to then be smug about it.
Furthermore this does not only apply to private, but also public persons. Of course we have politicians that practice Orwellian doublethink, because otherwise… If our politicians would really say stuff, instead of mostly prating, we would lynch them in a allegorical sense. Especially recent years however also have shown, that the creation of an alternative world can be a successful endeavor in avoiding “failure” instead of just saying nothing.
And it’s the same with our entertainment industry. Let’s take the Star Wars as an example. The original movies of course took elements from preexisting works, but they were something new… Something risky. George Lucas with “Star Wars: A New Hope” could have failed back then. But he didn’t… And now Star Wars is an integral part of our culture. I think that’s not a controversial thing to say…
The prequels however kind of failed. They didn’t fail in every way. I mean they’ve been a financial success. But a lot of fans were disappointed, because of certain problems the films had. I won’t go into detail about them here, because I think a certain group of armchair critics did a much better job doing so than I ever could. But at least the prequels tried something new. But then came episode seven, which was just a rehash of the very first movie. You could also call it a soft-reboot. The movie wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t try anything new. Of course it was in general a good movie. But is this a surprise as it is based on another good movie? The better question is, how it compares to its template. And you can answer that for yourself.
My conclusion is, that soft reboots like that in the first case happen, because they decrease the risk of failure. The makers are doing something that is already proven. And it’s no wonder, that movie companies mostly produce safe, than risky movie. Because they’re first of all financial companies, that have to sustain them and their shareholders.
Phew, now I veered away a lot from my original point of failing an exam in my first post. But this is how my train of thought works. I however think that all of those examples show, that failures aren’t always benevolent teachers in reality, but that this has mostly to do with our relationship regarding them.
And while we could change certain points, others, like companies trying to avoid losing money, might just be the way things are.
This is however only my subjective view and I would love to hear about your opinions and experiences.
And I think we can only change our relationship to failures, if we understand, what they mean for other people.