By: Jennifer Richardson
We hear conversations around us that ask us to make things in life softer and easier to handle. And there is merit to taking the time to be kind when it is possible to do so. There are many occasions in life in which we would be better served to consider our word choice, and the effect on those around us.
But should we completely change the meaning of words to simply protect feelings?
I was engaged in a conversation with a friend recently, and the topic was failure. He was genuinely concerned about how someone else would feel if he used the word failure in reference to his or her efforts. I made a suggestion. Rather than reducing the definition of failure—perhaps we should emphasize that failure offers a new beginning every time we experience it. We could use the understanding of failure to begin to teach the meaning of resilience.
But, he wondered, wouldn’t using the word failure make the person feel badly; like they failed?
We could remove the concept of failure; this would certainly align with the steady shift in reasoning that we are feeling as a culture. We are engaged in a full-scale removal of personal accountability. It is happening gradually, but it is happening. Think about it, when was the last time you heard someone actually own their own error? We all continue to make mistakes, but blame is becoming like a game of hot potato; more thrown than held.
One of the ways we avoid acknowledging a failure is to re-define the terms. When you change the terms for an unchanged process, this is called marketing. Marketing makes us feel better about things that are negative or things that are not actually different. Marketing can take the sting out of things we might be better off feeling the pain for.
For example, -the rules don’t apply to me- becomes “disenfranchised,” and –failure- becomes “unfinished.”
There is a danger to traveling in this direction. We need a firm understanding of cause and effect, the ability to accept responsibility for blunders, and preparation for a world that will not soothe every mistake. Why? If we water down all possibility of feeling any negative effects from failure–then we can’t genuinely understand accomplishment.
I was a teacher who practiced kindness in my classroom, and I had no desire to make things more painful than they had to be. But I also believed in teaching the whole child and getting them ready for a future in which they would need to understand failure, both academic and personal. And they would need to be able to pick themselves up and begin again and do better.
There will always be struggle. As much as we work toward creating a path to success for all, failure will happen—it is generally part of the learning curve of life.
We all need a foundation of right and wrong, good choice or bad choice, and success and failure. Long after my students have forgotten the details of my daily lesson they will need a frame of reference to define a productive, successful life. And what is triumph if the spectrum of achievement has no opposite end? If I take away the definition of failure, I take away a piece of what it means to be successful.
Learning from disappointment demonstrates what a successful life can be, and the collection of behaviors that will give us the best chance at our best life. And yes, that includes a clear understanding of failure.
The best people you know have failed, and that is why they have succeeded.