Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why We Call It Failure

A recent article in Newsweek (9.20.10) by Julia Baird explores the possibility that Willy Loman was not a loser. Loman, you’ll remember, is Pulitzer-winning Arthur Miller’s character in “Death of a Salesman.”

As the saying goes, look up “failure” in the dictionary, and you’ll see Willy Loman’s picture. Baird, however, asks us to think about this poster child for “loser” a bit differently. “...Willy kept a job for 38 years, he owned his house—he had just made the last mortgage payment – and had a wife and two children.” She adds, “Today he’d be a survivor.”

J.K. Rowling, another famous author of another relatively well-known character, addressed Harvard grads in 2008 and described failure as a “stripping away of the inessential.”

Let’s think about this, here in 2010, with a staggering unemployment rate. Do we ever judge unemployed people too harshly? Do we see them, and they themselves, as “failures”? If so, why? Life, if nothing else, is about good times and hard times. We all have them in some form or another. Easy times are swell, but let's remember, it’s in the tough times we discover what is really important in life.

Without “failure,” how would we ever know the true meaning of success? As Baird writes, “Today [Willy’s] grandchildren might be proud.”

Photo: Miller (left) and Dustin Hoffman as "Willy" in 1985