Wednesday, December 1, 2010

success and failure

Success and failure are interesting commodities. They also create a koan of sorts.

Success and failure are personal and touching on the one hand. They bind the social fabric. The kid who gets A's is "smart" and the one who gets F's is "dumb." Smart is better than dumb both in a social setting and in the mirror. The blue-ribbon achiever is acknowledged and held up as an example of what can be accomplished. S/he can run the fastest, climb the highest mountain, make the most money, exemplify heroism, out-think the others and generally receive an applause that can both warm the achiever's heart and set the social standard. Those who fail are left measuring their failure against the yardstick of those who succeeded. It can be a cold and arid land.

Success and failure inspire effort.

But there is another component that invites examination: Success and failure as commonly defined both require a reliance on others. And while the social warmth that others provide is inviting, it is a fickle support system. Relying on others means that individuals are constantly living their lives according to someone else's vision and the question can arise, "What are things like when I and I alone say it's a success? What are things like when I and I alone say it's a failure?"

Those wedded to success and failure in ordinary terms find a hundred ways to "adapt" to the fickleness of relying on others for definition and peace. "You gotta go with the flow," "You gotta go along to get along." This leads to a constant fidgeting and fussing, a constant buttressing of the walls that create an acceptable definition of self.

And yet the questions can nag. If the best I can do is to define my success and failure according to others, what happens when there are no others? What happens when the separations I have relied on fall away?

It's a scary prospect, perhaps, and yet the invitation to examination persists: What is it like to stand on your own two feet? What is it like to be alive without judgment of any sort? It may be lonely as a leaf in a puddle, but is it true? Without any relying whatsoever, what are things like?

Is this the place of reliable success?

Is it necessary to call it success?

Isn't this just the place of enjoyment?

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