Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Wisdom of Failure

A college professor I knew used to tsk tsk the dishonesty with which our celebrity-obsessed culture emphasizes success. We hold up one dimensional portraits of patriots, rock stars and politicians who we believe we need to mimic.

He’d cracked wise about the money wasted on self-help books and personal improvement seminars that promise to lift us beyond who we to something we’d really really like to be. We strive for the unattainable, for failure.

We spend too little time learning how to cope with failure. The closest we come is the delight we share when one of those rock stars or politicians stumbles. We need to move beyond the crass marketing of success. Failure these days is a hot commodity, and now more than ever we need coping strategies for embracing it, and a reservoir of strength to keep us from running away from it scared.

The measure of a human being isn’t their success. That’s just the stuff of obituaries. Our true character is shown in how honestly we deal with failure. Don’t blame others. Don’t pin it on bad circumstances. Face failure, as if looking into a mirror that reflects that bit of ourselves we find hardest to look at.

I’m not sure you can actually build a marketing plan around people’s aspirations to fail, but I do believe there’s a character building exercise in learning to deal with life’s let-downs.

Master Sheng-Yen says in his article “Being Natural” (Tricycle, Summer 1995):
"The objective of practice (meditation) is to be in accord with the natural way, so that your true nature can manifest itself. Practice according to the methods taught by the Buddha and do not worry about success.”

Obsession to achieve that success which lies beyond us is neurosis.
Focus on being who we are, with all our success and failures, is truly achieving that enlightenment the Buddha taught.

There’s honesty in that.

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