The purveyors of the success cult assure us that we can all achieve success. If we fail it is blamed on our laziness, our negativity, our timidity, our procrastination, our addictions, our fallen nature, our faithlessness. All we have to do is buy their nostrums, listen to their inspirational speeches, read their books, attend their conferences, join their team, make their investments, or take their supposedly proven pathways to achieve success.
The vision of success is often expressed materially: the baronial estate, the just-washed luxury automobile, the model spouse, and the well-appointed progeny. Napoleon Hill stands upon the ramparts and declares that we can all “Think and Grow Rich”. Are you not rich? Then you must not be thinking.
The more democratic vision only downsizes the goals: the little cookie-cutter, home in the pristine neighborhood, the plebeian automobile washed on the weekend, the industrious, “regular folks” couple and their children who work for their allowance, with side-businesses lawn-mowing and baby-sitting. Are you not making a living? Then you must not be working.
Yet the aggregate tells a different story. For every success, there must be several failures. For every phenomenal success, there must be millions of failures. In the plutocratic vision of success, we see the failure all around us, but those who achieve the democratic success are assuaged by limited vision of their neighborhood, never seeing the failures in ghettos and global poverty. Not that the plutocrat or the democrat seek out the failures. When they are presented to them, they write a big check or a little check to make them go away.
They are aghast that I would praise failure, for that would discourage their brilliant or industrious children from studying hard at school and achieving their own success. They will attack me for discouraging poor children from pulling themselves out of poverty as they or their grandma did. They will say that I am heartless for praising failure when there are so many disadvantaged people born into poverty. How dare I!
I do not praise poverty. They should read again what I wrote. They should read it a third time.
Now they should contemplate what compelled them to come to the conclusions that they did. They have listened so thoroughly to the praise of success, seen its visions in their dreams, that not only is success linked with wealth, but failure is linked with poverty. Success is linked with uprightness and failure with moral turpitude. Success is linked with people and failure is linked with beasts. They might not say as much, but it is what they are thinking.
Perhaps they might now see the error in their thinking. The failures of others is what enables their own success. A host of brilliant people never achieve stardom or celebrity. A legion of industrious workers build a great structure or a great enterprise and then are unemployed. Millions of children are great athletes but there are only a few slots available in professional teams, only so many tournaments a poor kid can enter and then win a prize so they can keep on going. There are thousands of gifted soloists who never get recognized, never get promoted, never knew the right people. There are millions of computer programmers who never had a huge salary or steady employment.
Yet that is not all. Many people who have the talents to achieve success choose not to. Why? Because they do not want the material manifestation of success. Because they sense or they know, with every fiber of their being, that material wealth is worthless.
Yes, you read that correctly. Material success is worthless. What matters is love and community. I mean real community. The community with which you awake in the morning, work and play during the day, talk and eat, and settle in for the night. Somebody setting themselves apart as the successful one destroys community and love. The wise ones reject success and embrace a loving failure.
Personally, I go further. I realize that, as a universal, we cannot all be successful. I realize that, as an aggregate, there will be times that we are failures and times we are successes. Most importantly, I realize that we cannot rely upon success to survive. There is a time for growth and time for decline. Yet the enjoyment of life should continue unabated. Ecclesiastes 3:11–13 puts it thus:
11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.
12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.
Therefore, we should praise failure with the certainty of survival. We should build our political economy so that there is an unconditional provision of the necessities, a $1500 weekly allowance to each citizen, so that failures can continue their generous work and benefit their communities.