attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

New Year, Same Ol' Me

I made a list of resolutions, but I lost it.

(I think "be more organized" was on there somewhere.)

Ha ha!  I kid!  I don't have any resolutions!

(Except "warm up the office" at the moment.  It's freezing in here.)

No, seriously, I don't do resolutions any more.  They just exist as a way to make people feel bad.  Too many people are encouraged to give themselves lofty and unattainable goals, which go out the window in less than a month (or a week, in my case, but I've always been talented), and then everyone experiences the Agony of Defeat, which isn't such a great learning experience as it's touted to be, because we're fed the idea that failing at achieving the impossible means that we'll never good enough, so we may as well give up completely.

This is not a useful lesson.

Useful lessons we could take from failing at lofty goals we don't have a hope of succeeding at:

"I need to be more patient with myself"
"It is okay to be less than perfect"
"Smaller goals are acceptable"
"Beating myself up for failing isn't healthy"
"Cupcakes are awesome, especially if they're frosted"

One must remember that it is only unobtainable resolutions that are not useful - failing at something one is attempting is actually quite useful, but only if you think of it as "being successful at finding what doesn't work", as Christopher Titus puts it.  Don't be afraid of failure.  Or cupcakes. 

(I would also like people to remember that the diet and beauty industry has a vested interest in our failure, and they try to make sure we fail, and feel bad about it, so we keep buying more and more product.) 

And that's why resolutions are generally a bad idea - not only do they guarantee failure (usually; most people don't make reasonable resolutions, such as "I resolve to add 10 minutes of walking to my day at least twice a week, and not beat myself up over the occasional cupcake or three", they make resolutions like "I will exercise for an hour every day!  I will never touch cupcakes again!", which we all know isn't going to happen), they set up the idea that if you can't keep to the resolution, you're a bad, lazy person lacking any semblance of willpower. 

A bad lesson, as it doesn't include any of the good lessons detailed above.

There's a definite puritanical streak that runs through a lot of the resolutions people make; it's all about quitting bad habits and punishing our bodies and minds for being less than perfect.  People rarely make resolutions like "I will give myself a break when something doesn't work out so well".

(The people that really do need to make resolutions for change don't usually make resolutions, since they think they're perfect.  We'll ignore them, even if their hygiene issues make our eyes water a little bit.)

I like failure.  Failure teaches me patience and kindness.  It makes me a better teacher, since it gives me empathy when other people fail.  It allows me to explore the different ways that might seem like a good idea (but aren't), so I can advise against them when other people want to do the same thing.

(If they want to go ahead and do it anyway, that's okay - many things we can only really learn by failing at them ourselves.  I'll still be there when they come back, and I won't say "I told you so".)

(Well, only if they were really obnoxious and smug about it.)

Failure makes us better people - kinder, gentler, more empathetic - but only if we allow failure to do its job, and don't fear it.  I think this is where societal pressure lets us down; American culture lionizes the successful; the first, the best, the thinnest, the prettiest, and the fastest, then mocks the person who comes last.  At the same time, we can't wait to topple the successful, and greedily demand all the details when a cultural icon of achievement is revealed as human.  We demonize failure, and desire it to happen to all the people we envy.  Failure is a punishment for being less than perfect.

This is unhealthy.

Everyone fails - it's part of being alive.  We learn through our mistakes.  Heck, we all start out uninformed, and make error, after error, after complete fuck-up, thereby learning a lot about the world around us.  Fire is hot, our tongues stick to freezing metal, the people we date will let us down, life isn't fair.  We bump our noses on things continually - it's the human condition.  So why are we so unforgiving of mistakes?  We get smug or judgemental about the mistakes of others, and we beat ourselves up (sometimes for years) over our own perceived bone-headedness.

I blame magical thinking.

It's the concept of the Evil Eye - if we're near someone who fails, we might fail too - it's contagious, or at least we act like it is. Superstition dictates that failure is catching, so must be shunned at all costs, as failure is bad.  We treat people who are perceived to fail very badly, as if being nasty is a fingers-crossed charm against anything bad happening to us.  Obviously, it doesn't work, but it's considered acceptable to treat people like they have the plague if they fail.  People go in for victim-blaming in a big way, self-righteously declaring that they will never fail, because they did everything right.  Failure as divine punishment for mysterious sins against a nebulous sky-god who promises us cupcakes if we do exactly what he says.  Speaking of sky-gods, we even institutionalize fear of failure in religion, using it to justify the outrageous treatment handed out to anyone with whom the religion disagrees, with the smarmy claim of "God is punishing you". 

I say embrace failure - learn what it feels like, and learn that no matter how you fail, it's not the end of the world, and you can pick yourself up again.  Feel empathy for people who fail at the things they try for, as it will give you practice for forgiving yourself when you inevitably fail at something.  No-one is perfect, and we all have a learning curve, whether it's building a ship in a bottle or learning how to have a healthy relationship with someone.  Admitting failure will make the world a better place, as we learn how to put ourselves back together again and go on, instead of flailing about in a stew of self-recrimination and disgust.

Resolve to be gentle, with others and with yourself.

(Note:  this kind of failure has nothing to do with wilful laziness, deliberate disfunctionality, or the twisted person you dated that one time.  It's one thing to be kind to someone who fails at the thing they're trying for; it's another thing entirely to be an enabler for someone too arrogant or lazy to work on their character flaws.)

(Second note:  I don't even want to get into the societal treatment of disabled people as "failures", but it is some nasty shit.  Don't buy into it.)

Tags: blah blah blah, cupcakes, deep thoughts, humour
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