I am a big fan of failure.
It’s not often that one has an epiphany, but my ‘success and failure’ epiphany is holding water so far. The epiphany was: “the point of failure is the point of gain”.
I think it took me so long to realize because I discovered it in the realm of physical training – and I didn’t start moving until my thirties, and didn’t gain any actual momentum until I was turning forty… then wham! Forty-and-a-half and I realize that what is wrong with me, society and everything… is a distinct lack of failure.
We are not setting the bar high enough – in all kinds of contexts. We pretend to strive for excellence, but the culture demands that we put the bar as low as possible so that everyone can jump it – so that everyone can succeed. The result is that even those people who could jump two metres, were the bar that high, only discover that they can jump 50cm… because that is where the bar is.
How can you find out that you can run 10 miles if you only try to run 10k?
How can you find out if you could memorise “Tam O’Shanter” if you only try to memorise the “Selkirk Grace”?
How will you ever find out if you could understand/appreciate Shakespeare, if you only read travel and tourism leaflets?
Our culture is so bent on inclusion and equality (both GREAT things that I am completely FOR), that we have dumbed down, diluted, squished and banalized EVERYTHING so that we have found our holy grail: the common denominator.
When you aim at the common denominator, you can all achieve it. The trouble is, that it’s lower than you think. And if that’s as low as you are aiming, you are going to succeed.
As laudable as the mission may be to get the whole nation to be literate in a generation, it does leave the literate people with quite a bit of thumb twiddling to be getting on with.
If you eat your five-a-day, take your regular exercise, are literate, numerate and … nice… what then? Is that it?
Crashing into my subconscious comes the Apostle Paul: “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” when he goes on to elaborate on love:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.”
Hold on a minute… “Love never fails.”? Does my epiphany about the importance of failure disappear into the scrapheap of heretical ideas?
I don’t think so. Love might never fail, but human love is flawed because of, well, humans. It does not mean, though, that we should strive for some lowest-common-denominator of casual affection. Why not strive for the “most excellent way”? Let’s have an ideal. Ideals. Call me naïve.
Back at primary school we were told, “Aim for the sky, but you might just hit a tree”. But for most of life these days, people are aiming for trees and running headlong into the trunks of them. The sky is no longer the limit. We can’t be sure everyone can make it there so we’d better fence it off. Health and Safety. Who knows the damage that could be done to someone’s self esteem?!…
Instead of deciding on the possible and putting the pass mark for acceptability there and watching the masses collect their certificate of effort and attendance, why not imagine the best, the most excellent, the furthest, the highest…. as Paul and Timothy put it:
“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
If we set the bar high enough, maybe no one will be able to jump it. But we will know how high everyone can jump. And some will be able to jump higher than they first thought.