My son applied for a job. He participated in a comprehensive testing and interviewing process and waited for the response. “Successful applicants will hear by Friday,” the organizers told him.
He came home that Friday to join us for a family event. The day came and went with no word. I would say “crickets,” but we’re in Ottawa, Canada, so no crickets in this cold. Let’s say that Friday passed with no sound but the lone call of a blue jay in the hinterland. He didn’t get the job.
“Oh well,” I said to him when all four of us gathered together for dinner. “Failure has its own lessons.”
Stunned silence followed my words. My husband, my daughter and my son stared at me as if I had declared my son—personally and overall—a failure. (No, no, no.)
After a couple of beats, my son said, “I might have put it a different way . . .”
I tried again. “You gave it your best shot and it didn’t work out. You learned from the experience and you’ll be better prepared for the next opportunity,” I said.
Mollified, all three nodded their heads. That was better. I didn’t use the word.
“Fail,” like “dead,” has become a word we’re not supposed to say. People don’t fail anymore; things don’t work out, or weren’t meant to be, or circumstances weren’t right. People don’t die anymore; they pass away, cross over, or go to a better place.
In this time of participation ribbons, and sports played without scorekeeping, and “leaving” ceremonies instead of graduations, perhaps there’s some value in reclaiming failure. Instead of protecting people from ever having a hurt feeling, we teach them how to deal with the hurt, how to build from it and not hide from it.
Maybe we can celebrate each failure as a worthy attempt. “You stood in there, faced your fear, tried something and failed! Good for you!”
“Failure made me look forward to the next game. If I had a bad game, I couldn’t wait for the next day, when I could brush off the failure and try to do better.” —Gary Carter in Still a Kid at Heart: My Life in Baseball and Beyond
My son plays baseball, so overall I’m not worried about his ability to deal with failure. An exceptional baseball hitter fails two-thirds of the time at the plate, and pitchers fail over and over when their fastballs end up on the home run side of the outfield fence. Playing the sport he loves, my son has learned how to brush himself off and carry on with the game after one type of failure or another.
But he still doesn’t like the word.
Here’s J.K. Rowling on The Fringe Benefits of Failure.
We used it to determine who was “It” in games of tag, or blind man’s bluff, or kick the can, or whatever. We all stood in a circle with one “duke” extended. Someone said the rhyme and pounded a different fist in the circle on each word.
My mother and your mother were hanging out the clothes.
My mother punched your mother in the nose.
What colour was the blood?
Whoever owned the duke that coincided with the word “blood” yelled out a colour.
The person then carried on hitting fists in the circle on each letter of the colour word.
Wherever the word ended, that person was It.
I spent some time puzzling over why—heavens why—this rhyme popped into my brain. I hadn’t thought about it in at least four decades. I moved on to analyzing the words. How gruesome! I then pondered who came up with this violent ditty first. What kind of society normalized hand-to-hand combat amongst mothers?
I made me realize the responsibility we have for today’s children.
As children we carved out gun-shaped pieces of wood and played Cowboys and Indians. Guess who always won? Now I cringe about the violence AND racism.
Speaking of racism, another popular It-picking rhyme we used as children started with the words “Eeeny meeny.” Remember that? Would we ever think of using the version we did in the 1960s and 1970s now? You couldn’t pay me to.
But my friends and I played those games, and then went home to mothers who didn’t come to fisticuffs with the neighbours. We recited those rhymes in the playgrounds of schools that taught us about other history and other cultures. Because of the stability and the education, we were able to grow into adults with an expanded world view.
Our responsibility for today’s children is to provide the stability and ensure the education for all, so that violence and racism affect the fewest members of our future generation.
Skaters arrived in my city and hurled themselves down a steep, curving ice track at speeds of more than 50 km/h.
The ice cross downhill athletes performed the feat on a track constructed in a breathtaking setting beside the historic Chateau Laurier and inside the Rideau Canal lock system. Who knows if anything like it will ever happen again in Ottawa?
Red Bull® Crashed Ice was an event not to be missed.
Off we went on Friday night. The sky lit up for miles around with the flashing light show. The bridge on which we stood over the Rideau Canal vibrated with the thumpa-thumpa of the non-stop pumping music. We craned our necks to see over the huge crowds and tried to figure out what was going on. We needed to deduce the action for ourselves because the young announcers for the event failed to live up to the basic requirements of their job description; that is, letting the spectators know what is happening. Information arrived to us in spotty patches. Skaters flew out of the starting gate with no warning. We didn’t know who most of the skaters were, where they were from or even what event they were skating in. I’d guess that five of eight skaters had backflipped down the track before the announcer informed us it was the semi-finals of the freestyle event. The commentary consisted mainly of “Whoa! Wow man.”
In the end, I didn’t marvel as long as one might expect over the daring of skaters who, by choice, (no one shoved them from behind off the starting block or anything) leaped off a precipitous ledge into a steep, icy hairpin turn. I didn’t gape at their breakneck (literally) speed.
Instead I mused about how we as a human race seem to be losing depth of moment.
No need to know or remember the names, the inconsistent commentary seemed to suggest: You can Google everything later. Were you looking down at your Twitter feed when a skater whizzed by? No worries. It’ll probably be on YouTube.
Before the Internet, before search engines and social media, the announcers of such an event would have felt the weight of their responsibilities. They would have known that they were the sole, fleeting source of information about the happenings unfolding in the moment. They would have felt some urgency to get the 5 Ws and the How to the spectators at the time. Our younger don’t feel the same pressures.
We are drifting away from “living in the moment” toward “living in the moment we look up later.”
I know they’re millennials and I’m old, but I like to live fully in the now with all the information I need for that moment.
I won’t need to look anything up later. I’ll be too busy enjoying the next fantastic deep moment.
“Nixon wears the presidency like a comfortable suit of armor. There is every indication that he will burrow even deeper into its splendid solitude during the next four years . . .” —Hugh Sidey, November 17, 1972
Ten days after Richard Nixon won a whopping 60.7% of the popular vote, LIFE magazine asked the question, “What will Nixon do with it?”
Even though Watergate was already public knowledge, and the country was still engaged in the contentious Vietnam war, a president with that kind of popularity could survive anything, right? At a time when the Cabinet Room was the domain of older white males smoking pipes, Nixon’s presidency appeared unimpeachable.
Sidey wrote, “He [Nixon] has been given almost everything by America─security, education, opportunity, wealth and position. Now he has been given an overwhelming trust and vote of renewal. It is once again Nixon’s turn. This is the turn that really counts.”
Less than two years later, Nixon was out of office, and his place in history secured for all the wrong reasons.
What can we learn from this?
We remember, once again, Martin Luther King Jr’s words: “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We remind ourselves that compassion is more powerful in the long run than security, education, opportunity, wealth and position.
We learn that even the most powerful man in the world has to do the right thing.
A child about 7 or 8 years old enters with a parent.
“Mommy (or Daddy), do they have books about (dinosaurs . . . Lego . . . dolphins . . .),” the child says.
“You’ll have to ask,” the parent replies.
The child slinks behind the parent’s leg. “You ask.”
“No, you go ahead,” the parent urges. “It’s okay. They won’t bite.”
The child peers out from behind the leg and faces the scary prospect of talking to an adult.
Last week a scenario exactly like that unfolded right beside me. As I worked I heard a young boy ask his father about a book. His father told him to ask me. The boy took some time to work up his nerve. He said:
“Do you have The Mysterious Benedict Society?
“Yes!” I said. “Right over here.” We walked together to pick up the book he wanted.
“See?” his father said. “Asking is better than wishing.”
The boy and his father left with the book and I went back to work thinking, What excellent life advice: Asking is better than wishing.
The rest of the afternoon I pondered, Have I been wishing for things without doing the asking? Could receiving those things be as simple as voicing the request?
Something to think about: Asking is better than wishing.