Children need failure in order to operate in society

Jake Hartwell

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A few days ago, I was relaxing on the couch and subjecting myself to the caustic environment of the modern American sitcom, as I am occasionally inclined to do. Amidst the banal, forgettable themes that usually appear in sitcoms, a thought-provoking issue emerged—one I’d like to share with you.

The father had taken his son to the school’s biannual track and field event in the spirit of good old healthy competition. There was just one problem: This kid was not athletic.

That sentence is an understatement; the kid was the victim of unprecedented levels of athletic failure. He could barely hold himself upright, let alone take on the 40-yard dash.

Despite his complete lack of physical viability, the kid brought home his weight in complimentary trophies. As manly sitcom dads are often disposed to do, the father launched into an indignant rave about the foolishness of giving trophies to everyone.

I wrote it off as stereotypical, stoic-authoritarian-sitcom dad behavior—that is, until it started making sense.

Most people had similar experiences as children. I played youth soccer for a couple of years and amassed an ungodly number of trophies while exercising little energy and less care. Everyone was rewarded because “everyone is special,” or some hippie, new-age mumbo-jumbo like that.

You see, at some point a change occurred in the way people thought about success. Parents, educators, coaches and the like realized that successful kids tended to have a lot of self-esteem.

Committing a classic logical fallacy, these people then assumed that, if given high self-esteem, children would attain unbridled success.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way, and the methodology is still setting up kids to fail. The fact is that success begets self-esteem—not the other way around. Every time a child is given reasonless hope, he or she is prepared for eventual, crippling failure.

Imagine children who have been protected from failure for their entire lives. By the time they enter the real world, they have unwarranted egos and no methods for coping with failure.

They apply for jobs far beyond their skills, play terrible music that no one wants to hear and audition for acting roles they don’t have a chance at getting. After their obese egos are punctured and deflated, they plummet to the ground, unequipped with the emotional strength to cope with failure.

They then live in boxes by the sides of roads and play poorly tuned guitars for a year or so until they finally snap out of it.

The effect of the “everyone wins” mentality on dedicated, hardworking kids can’t be ignored either. As they watch other children obtain the same rewards for less work, they can lose all motivation to excel.

As the little blonde boy from The Incredibles elegantly pointed out, saying that everyone is special is the same as saying that no one is.

Self-esteem is not a quality that people should inherently possess. No, self-esteem is earned with backbreaking labor and, eventually, sweet success. If kids aren’t ever allowed to experience the ups and downs of hard work and dedication, they can never truly become adults.

So let kids fall short for once. It’ll give them the necessary skills to cope with greater problems later on. And who knows; maybe after Junior fails at pee-wee football, he’ll put his energies into reading books, learning calculus or something else more productive than bashing his delicate skull against hard things.


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Two-million out of forty-million people suffering with AIDS in Africa have never received any kind of treatment.

The numbers are shocking. Even more riveting is the fact that international measures are in place to solve this problem, but they are blocked with the economic power of pharmaceutical companies lobbying for stringent protection for their intellectual property rights.

A compulsory drug license is a method of making essential medicine more affordable and available to people in resource-poor communities in times of emergency. In 2006, Thailand issued a CDL for an AIDS cocktail. Within 48 hours the pharmaceutical industry made a public outcry and soon after the US placed the country on a “Watch List” and restricted economic trade.

Is the west having a relapse into its old imperialism ways? Just like a recovering addict that was just introduced to its old friend, the West is exerting its economic power to get another hit.

The revenue generated in developing countries for life saving treatments does not trump the cost of human life wasting away without access to the treatment available. Profits, small margins available for medicine in the least developed countries, do not go before the right to health.

We as members of Western society need to make our voice heard. Lobby harder than the pharmaceuticals! Tell a friend, talk about it over drinks and dinner, spread the word that people in other parts of the world deserve access to the medicine we have available.

With enough support we won’t relapse into the times of New Imperialism. Societies of the West, to imperialism? Just say no!




Lila Milford

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