Failure is an unpleasant word, with bleak connotations. Yet it is a word that applies to every one of us at different stages of our lives. No one is exempt. Our icons, gurus, religious leaders, politicians, rock stars and educators all fail. It is simply a reality of being human. It is also a label that we fight desperately to avoid. And it is this fight to avoid failure that drives us forward towards our life accomplishments. So--why can't we take responsibility for our own failure when it does occur?
We need to accept responsibility for a very important reason--namely, maturity. We cannot reach a full level of maturity until we accept ownership of our own mistakes. As an educator, I am confronted with this problem on a daily basis. When a student is late for class, it is because a parent failed to wake them up. A failed test becomes the responsibility of the teacher, the system, society, an after school job, but never the fault of the test taker. An incomplete assignment is inevitably due to the needy demands of a friend, or an electrical failure. I feel particularly blessed because the power circuits leading to my home must be exceptionally fine, as I have yet to experience the myriad of blackouts that have plagued my students.
Nevertheless, the daily onslaught of excuses has left me questioning the value of our education system. What, after all, is the point of "higher learning" if we fail to master the basic task of owning up to our own mistakes?
As we proceed through our education system and indeed life, our excuses for failure become more grandiose and perhaps more grotesque because the crude reality is that we have failed to mature in any significant sense of the word. To continually shift responsibility away from ourselves is worse than being a coward. Even a coward will admit that their failure is a result of their own lack of courage.
Accepting failure takes strength of character, honesty and humility. It provides a building block for future achievements. When we deny culpability, we rob ourselves of the chance to learn from our mistakes. We condemn ourselves to a lifetime pattern of avoidance and deception. Like Marley's ghost, dragging his chains of missed humanitarian opportunities behind him, we crawl forward pulling our chains of pathetic excuses behind us--never fully maturing, never fully reaching our true potential. This stale baggage is far more character eroding than any of our individual failures could ever be.
A story that appeared on Sunday Express, July 1, 2001.Click here for the full story [118 KB]
Communications of the ACM, July 2001. A professor, launches a process of comparison between students' term papers... and finds a lot of matches. 122 students could be expulsed.Click here for the full story [75 KB]
A local newspaper published a story about a conflict between a teacher and a student.Click here for the full story [107 KB] [Spanish only]