Skip to comments.Lee Harris: The Uses of Failure
Posted on 03/28/2004 10:20:45 PM PST by quidnunc
If Americans have one collective shortcoming, it is that we have no use for failure. Success alone is what counts for us; and though we are apt to applaud those who have given their best to come in at second or third place, we all tend to shrink back from complete and abject failure.
That is why, whenever a President looks around for men to be by his side, to guide him and to give him counsel, he will look to those who have been successful at everything that they have put their hand to. It is one of our cherished mottos that success breeds success; and we are confident that if we appoint only successful men to positions of prominence, any project undertaken by these men is bound to be successful, too.
This is our form of paganism, since underlying the American myth of success is the primitive belief that some people are just plain lucky just as certain numbers are, or certain days, or certain arrangements of the planets. The Greeks and Romans felt the same way, as did the Chinese and the Japanese and still do, I would suspect. After all, what could be more natural than the notion that good luck can rub off, or that it may adhere to certain objects, such as a rabbit's foot or a four leaf clover? As Samuel Johnson once observed about the belief in ghosts, can the universal practice of mankind be dismissed as having no basis in reality?
Unfortunately, the American myth of success is frankly a bit ashamed of its own primitive roots in the collective psyche, and it looks for a way to validate itself in a higher ethic than that of dumb luck. It seeks justification not in the caprices of the blind goddess Fortuna, but in the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Success, according to this model, is the fruit by which we can recognize those whom God has elected before the foundations of the world were laid. Their success is pre-ordained, and what is more, it is not subject to reversal; there may, of course, be set backs on the way, but no obstacle can ever keep the elect from obtaining their final goal.
A glance at the life of an investor like Warren Buffet certainly makes such claims plausible. If he offered you a stock tip, would you hesitate for a moment before acting on his advice? Yes, the man has had set backs, but what were these compared to his triumphs?
America has a rich history of such men, and I have no desire to detract from their contribution to our cultural heritage. Yet there is a genuine danger in assuming that because a man has been successful up until now that he will continue to be successful, and it was this danger that the ancient Greeks encapsulated in the concept of hubris.
(Excerpt) Read more at techcentralstation.com ...
But I find myself wondering why we felt moved to produce this one...
One thumb down.
I would argue that Americans love the underdog and are tolerant of those who fail. If I'm wrong, then explain to me the charm of the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox....
Failure has lessons to teach us that are often far more valuable than those of success.
More provocative ideas, tongue-in-cheek and baiting from Lee Harris to stimulate discussion.
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