What’s Going On?: Why we should fear failure more today
It is the carbon of our soul.
Just as the most basic element composes every single living organism, failure is the common bond of experience between every single person. Regardless of race, gender, income level, physical or mental prowess, everybody fails … sometimes.
You can’t avoid it and at some levels, you are encouraged to embrace it.
There isn’t a better example than baseball. As fans, the players we revere most fail two out of three times to get a hit. Even failing three out of four times is regarded as pretty good.
Failure is everywhere and unavoidable.
Yet, it terrifies us.
And it should.
As a society, we generally don’t react to other people’s failures very well. Empathy isn’t something we are quick to offer. Ridicule, scorn, judgment. Yeah, those we have an abundant supply of and we are pretty good at dishing out one, two or all three in short order.
But hey, that’s human nature, really. We have always done that. Justice for all, but mercy for mine has been our similar approach to the legal system from the days of the first courts.
What has changed though is how we communicate, and share with the world, that ridicule, scorn and judgment.
Thanks to pretty much everyone walking around with a personal, handheld video recorder that doubles as a phone and a computer, our failures can be instantly preserved online for eternity.
Coupled with the Internet and all its glorious platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we have numerous opportunities and resources in which we can further your humiliation on a global scale.
As such, these moments and failures in life, whether it’s a guy sliding down his slippery driveway only to land on his posterior, or the story of a drunk man evading police on an ATV, while naked, can be enjoyed by all. They will generate millions of clicks and views, shares and likes and as such, thousands and thousands of dollars in advertising revenue.
Because hey, who wouldn’t want to read a story about a naked guy escaping arrest on an ATV?
What happens, though, is in this information age we become deluged with failure and conditioned to either ridicule, chastise, or even demonize it.
You frequently hear claims that repeated exposure to violent images, especially video, can desensitize an individual which in turns, makes violent acts more acceptable.
Could the opposite be true of failure?
Are we less empathetic and forgiving of those who fail today because we have been so well trained to view it as either comedic material or a reflection of the person? Have we forgotten there is a person responsible for that screw-up that became a viral video?
What’s equally concerning though is how we maintain that filter when viewing our own shortcomings in life. As we associate any mistake with ridicule, screw-ups, and “bad” people, we become less inclined to admit and own our own, or those of people close to us.
We become less willing to concede a mistake has been made because, at least subconsciously, we fear being viewed in the same light as the guy who’s pants ripped as he sat down to eat.
Everyone is a screwup. How we respond to our own mistakes, and maybe more importantly, to everyone else’s, though, is what defines who we are.
Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.