DoNotWant: Attitudes of Failure.

January 11, 2009

Failure is not something that bothers me.  Sure, I’d rather not fail, but it’s my general philosophy that if you do your best and end up failing anyway, there’s no point in being too upset about it.  That’s just the forces of nature for you.

What really irks me is when you don’t even try.

It seems to me that this is where the average person ends up.  Try to talk to them about anything that seems to be a problem (the environment, toxic cosmetics, consumerism – just pick something) and they’ll listen to you, nodding occasionally, and at the end shrug and say “Oh, well; what can you do?”

The problem isn’t in the question.  If it were sincere, I would be quite pleased with this individual.  But it isn’t a sincere question.  It’s a brush-off.  When someone asks “what can you do?” what they really mean is “well, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Even more frustrating is that the kind of people who are going to ask this question are frequently those in the greatest positions to help.  Perhaps they work for an offending company, or perhaps they regularly purchase the products that contribute to the problem.  Being in this position means that they have a great deal of power that they could use to change things.  Unfortunately, it also means that they’ll probably be less willing to make waves and risk losing these things.  Why speak out about your company’s toxic products and risk losing your job?  Why go out of your way to buy higher-price locally grown or fair-trade products?

So many people have it in their heads that their comfort or convenience should always come before other problems.  If they percieve a risk associated with trying to make a difference, they just won’t do it.  Oh, sure, they’ll do the little things; the easy things, like recycling their soda cans or buying low-output cars.  But get into any zone that requires them to give up something familiar to them, and oh well, what can you do?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and talk about politics for a moment.  Specifically, about President-elect Barack Obama.  I’m not going to tell you what I think of his politics, because that’s entirely irrelevant to this entry and I’m not sure where he stands on some issues.  But take a look at this man.  Listen to the things he’s said.

Here was a man who was at the bottom of the food chain.  Shuffled about for most of his childhood, never had a very good source of income, that sort of thing.  Now first we have his mother and grandmother.  Neither of them were very well-equipped to raise the future President of the United States.  They could have, like so many people in poor conditions, settled for getting by, pushing the kid through school and then turning him loose in the hopes he’d get somewhere.  Instead, they put forth the effort and raised a bright, mature and quite motivated individual.

Now we come to Obama himself.  I remember stories of his early Presidential lobbying.  Due to his limited political experience and short resources, he had a great deal of trouble finding supporters; he had to resort to going house-to-house in the hopes of obtaining donations to put toward better publicity.

This guy didn’t have to run for President.  He really didn’t.  As a legislator and later senator, he was already taking huge strides in encouraging changes.  Sure, being President would give him more influence, but take a moment to look at this from the perspective of a citizen.  Running for President is a monumental task.  You’ve already gotten this far, and you’ve worked your butt off to do it.  If you want to make it to President, you’re going to have to pull off an enormous campaign, travel the country, insult other politicians (the only real fun part) and generally shoot the moon.

Well, he shot it, and he shot it with all the tenacity of a tracker hound.

Despite the monumental work involved in becoming President, though, it could still be argued that he really didn’t risk anything.  I mean, the worst that could happen is that he’d fail and have to settle for a smaller position, right?  Yeah.  No biggie.  Even doing what he did – getting up and actually expressing the viewpoint of someone who had been on the bottom – wasn’t all that scary.

Okay, how about refusing public funding for the general election?  (Or, in layman’s terms, giving up free money.)  True, Obama was getting a considerable amount of funding privately, possibly more than what public financing would have fetched him.  Or maybe – on a serious out-on-the-limb guess that may make me look like a total idiot – he did it as a way of showing the American populace that yeah, he does actually care where the government is spending your tax dollars.

I don’t know for sure.  What I do know is that he got himself elected President.  And I’m not even asking that you do that.  All I’m asking is that if you see a place where you are helping to support a flawed system, take some risks.  Don’t intentionally cut your own throat, but do try stepping out of your comfort zone and see where it takes you.

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