I watch and listen to my grandchildren growing up and I am aware of a major shift from the days of my youth. It is clear that rewarding and praising children is seen as very beneficial, as has always been the case, but it is also clear that there is a new emphasis on avoiding rebuke or expressing disappointment. There seems now to be a drive to give praise whenever possible, I note the most prosaic of actions being flattered and the most quotidian of results being rewarded. Failure seems something to be ignored, something to be avoided, something that needs to be brushed under the carpet and ignored.

In discussion with my offspring it seems that they are keen to keep any feelings of disappointment, or recognition of failure, away from children for a long as possible. Games are organised so that everyone wins and all get prizes, the belief is that this strategy will aid self-confidence and self-esteem by avoiding damaging early criticism. But is this the case?

Self-esteem arises from our awareness of our talents. It is recognition of our worth based on our achievements. Any self-esteem gained through empty praise of unremarkable actions is surely false. An ego based on such flimsy foundations would indeed be weak. The stimulus of praise to guide us to achieve will be missing and it might prove difficult for children to know how to aim their endeavours.

The absence of the experience of failure will also mean that the child misses out on a vital corrective experience.Wisdom is created by experience, we need to know what fails so that we can avoid mistakes in future.  Since the ancient Greeks we have know that we need to try things in which we fail in order to develop :-

“Zeus, who guided mortals to be wise,
has established his fixed law—
wisdom comes through suffering.
Trouble, with its memories of pain,
drips in our hearts as we try to sleep,
so men against their will
learn to practice moderation.
Favours come to us from gods
seated on their solemn thrones—
such grace is harsh and violent.”

Aeshylus

and this is echoed in the maxim “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” (Albert Einstein)

So far, I think most people would agree with me about the usefulness of the corrective effects of failure. But I feel that there is another wider reason we need to be able to compete and to learn what it is like to fail.  When we compete and win we learn about areas in which our skills excel, we learn which skills we possess in which me might take some pride and our confidence and esteem are bolstered as a consequence.

When we fail we learn another vital lesson, we learn that others may be better than us. They may be smarter, faster, stronger or wittier than we are. It is important to recognise this.  We are born egocentric and self-centred we need to learn that others are separate and equal characters. We need to know that in some areas other people may surpass us and that we are not the unique focus of the world. It is this balance of aiming for self-actualisation while at the same time respecting the autonomy and equality of others which allows us to develop fulfilling relationship in the world and to develop our character. Our individual and collective future depends upon this and I hope we are not undermining our options by these changes.

 

 

 

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