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I’m more comfortable with the advice of the dead than the living when it comes to failure. Failure is universal, failure is human. And pragmatism isn’t its solution.
When I think about personal failure, I realize that the greatest among my failings aren’t those which are material in nature, which is actually quite a big success, but rather those that directly violate my personal sense of integrity or balance.
Rejections can become acceptances, money lost can be regained, relationships must ebb in order to flow, but time spent separated from ones’ self is and always will be passed.
Rock bottom can serve as a foundation upon which to rebuild. Why? Because failure is a stripping away of the inessential (paraphrasing JK Rowling Harvard commencement; I realize she isn’t dead).
But what is inessential? Emotion. What is essential? Emotion.
Let me explain.
The ‘tragedy’ (think Shakespeare) is a genre lost in modernity. In addition to providing entertainment, it is a study of failure, tragedies teach empathy for the unfortunate. However, they do not teach us how to avoid misfortune; an important yet somewhat irrelevant distinction (for the purpose of this reflection). Failure begins long before it manifests; Hamlet begins to spiral long before he dies. He is consumed by his emotions, unable to detach, reflect, and act with resolve.
In my experience, processing emotion is laborious and without any immediate fruit. So why do it? Firstly, to not end up like Hamlet.
But all jokes aside, let me try to answer this question with another question. What are emotions? I would argue that they are a way we communicate with ourselves. More than that, emotions are, in many cases, directives, they tell us where to go, be it small distances or long journeys (think ‘Walking’ by Thoreau). Sitting with our emotions is like listening to instructions; hence, it can be tedious.
Many of the emotions that we experience, however, are inessential. Not all instructions are good. In fact, many are misguided and even detrimental: jealousy, envy, greed, fear. For instance, one of the first emotions experienced by someone who is spiralling is probably envy of those who aren’t. This only makes things worse.
But sitting with our emotions involves letting our negative emotions play out; letting them make themselves heard so that they can be cast aside to unveil that which is truly substantial; the desires of the soul, the deeper feelings.
The soul is expansive, it knows no bounds. Good emotions encourage growth, expansion, curiosity.
Failure begins with the soul's imprisonment and ends with its liberation.
A common emotional conflation: anxiousness and ambition.
Both result in their experiencer travelling in the same direction, forward. But anxiousness breaks their being with each step and ambition nourishes them with every stride.
With ambition, one steps forward because they are open to the road ahead. With anxiousness, one continue forward because one is scared to step back.
Equality, at least in the modern sense, begets envy (paraphrase of Alain de Botton; I realize that he is alive as well).
Have you ever been truly jealous of the Queen of England? Probably not.
Have you ever experienced jealousy towards someone in your life? Probably. Why? Because you are told that you are their equal, more specifically, that you can achieve everything they can.
This sense of the word ‘equality’ is wrong. It is actually equity, and equity by its very definition (equality of outcome, while sometimes necessary, is always forced and always temporary).
Equality, to take the most pragmatic definition, should not mean that everyone achieves similarly, but rather that what we achieve, or who we are, is inconsequential.
At a superficial level, therefore, equality can somewhat be tied to indifference.
But if thought about more deeply, it can actually be interpreted in a more spiritual way; that we are all aspects of a single encompassing being.
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Tragedies teach empathy for the unfortunate. However, they do not teach us how to avoid misfortune. Failure begins long before it manifests.