We usually define “success” as achieving some sort of goal. A sports team wins a competition. A job search results in an offer from the company of our choice. A contest awards a prize. And life in general, we gain more money or a bigger house or greater fame than others.
I’m starting to realize that I’ve learned the most from projects that I initially labeled as “failures.” This perspective probably is grounded in the decades I’ve spent trying to get published. I wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old. For about 30 years, I slowly but steadily published articles, nonfiction pieces in a variety of local and regional outlets, capped by a how-to book about recruiting and managing volunteers in libraries. Hardly the stuff of a Pulitzer or National Book Award. Since I always wanted to publish fiction, if I’d been asked about my writing success during those years, I would have rated myself as a failure.
At the same time I usually held down a full-time job in communications and public relations. It was during some stints writing applications for grants, then evaluating projects based on the final criteria, that I realized the expectation always was that we’d achieve every objective we’d listed in the original proposal. That defined “success.” This wasn’t always possible or even desirable. Surely if the people involved in the project learned about impacts, that was more important that claiming we’d met objectives. An example—if we hosted an art workshop for kids, and our objective was for each child to create three clay pots, surely it was more important that we leaned those children preferred paints to clay than that every child made his allotted number.
Evaluations with goals and objectives also are common in work plans. In fact as a government employee, I became accustomed to dreaming up annual evaluation methods, which usually changed according to agency fiat every few years, ungrounded in any kind of reality. And again, I seemed to learn more from ostensible “failures” than successes.
This same approach can be applied to raising children. Before mine were well launched into adolescence, I agreed with the theory that good parenting showed up in children who never got in trouble and did well in school. My eyes were opened to the independence of a young human when one of mine always had to learn the hard way. If my sole criterion had been my original standards, I would have written off the parent-child relationship as irretrievably broken. Fortunately I held on and realized both of us had learned and grown through the ill-defined “failure.”
Bob Dylan wrote, “There’s no success like failure. . .failure’s no success at all.” I’m inclined nowadays to apply this Zen-like approach. Arbitrary standards for success may be applied by others, but as the person on my own voyage through life, I’m trying to enjoy and learn from the process, not the result. Perhaps others can benefit from this perspective, too.
A big buzz word in education and self-improvement circles is “creativity.” We’re urged to unlock our creativity through classes and hands-on activities and to encourage the quality in our offspring. Businesses and organizations are told creativity will solve employee dissatisfaction and will improve the bottom line by bringing out innovative ideas.
Stop and consider, however, that the gap between the well-to-do and the middle class grows wider by the day. This inequality is based not infrequently on the types of jobs members of each category hold. Once you have a potful of money, you have flexibility to invest it, save it, loan it, explore for precious metals with it, i.e., become wealthier.
As the curves indicating income diverge more and more, it’s obvious the future doesn’t bode well for the middle class. So what’s the big deal about creativity? Why do we constantly moan we’re not giving people enough time to get creative? The last thing we need is a workforce like that, brimming with innovation and enthusiasm. What jobs are going begging? In my neighborhood, the signs posted on telephone poles, the listings on the Internet are for unskilled workers, people to fill positions in fast food joints, lawn care, child care, telemarketing.
Let’s stop lying to ourselves. All we need are wage slaves, drones*, who can tolerate mind-numbing routine. In fact the more we can do to dumb people down, so they’re satisfied with tedious jobs, the better off the nation will be. Creativity can only lead to intense dissatisfaction with these jobs and subsequently with the hand-to-mouth existence mandated by them. So what we should be doing, short of lobotomy to remove the ability to experience dissatisfaction, is crushing the populace until all they can think about is that drink, joint, pill, or sexual experience waiting them after work.
I recently read Anthem by Ayn Rand, a dystopian novella that bears some of the hallmarks of her political philosophy. At a future date, society has regressed and lost technology. People live collectively, and socialist thinking rules every action and decision. Individuality is a punishable crime. Despite these restrictions, the brave hero, a creative fellow, manages to reinvent electricity and breaks free to start his own settlement. That’s the trouble with creativity. Unfortunately those folks with that trait are almost impossible to suppress.
*(To be clear, drones are not, by-and-large, workers; but they loll around and have the ability to reproduce. Sound familiar?)
While watching a 50s Western on television, I chuckled to be reminded of the extremes the media used to reach to avoid censorship or offending their audiences. One character, a rancher, was married to a Native American woman; and two of the townsmen launched a sexist tirade to get his goat, stating, “We’ve heard she’s some pumpkin.” To update the scene, replace “pumpkin” with the profanity of your choice.
At the same time, I was rereading a science fiction classic, The Stars My Destination,” by Alfred Bester. (The teleporting hero seeks revenge for his abandonment on a wrecked space ship and causes havoc all about him.) Published originally in 1956, the version I perused made special note twice of the lack of complete rape and sex scenes, claiming that had the author been writing more recently, he wouldn’t have been stifled and we could have been treated to vivid renderings.
I was thankful I’m not limited in my writing the way people were sixty years ago. I have more freedom, I thought. But then I wondered why that was my reaction. I didn’t miss the violence and sex in the book; the plot certainly raced through compelling scenes and conflicts, sending my fingers fluttering through the pages. I remembered the Western. Did I miss any tension because substitutes had been made for vulgarities? No.
One of my works in progress is a novel with a vivid sex scene. This is not one of my romances. In those, unlike the current trend to include in fiction every bang or whimper or lick, I don’t accompany the characters into beds. To me, that’s comparable to writing at length about someone eating or using the toilet. There’s not much difference among humans, it’s repetitive and boring no matter how a writer tries to dress it up. And yet, yes, I’m including this sex scene because it’s part of the satirical slant.
I have to say I don’t like unending vulgarities in films, books, television or otherwise. While some writers, composers, filmmakers will protest they’re just reflecting society, that’s not true. My friends and family don’t swear with every other word.
Many have noted that bad language is a substitute for thinking, for careful attention to expression. Am I offended when the man next to me on the bus is conducting a conversation loaded with F-bombs? I don’t think so. But my attitude tends toward disgust that he has so little regard for strangers around him, or himself and the image he’s conveying to them, that he uses it.
I’m grateful that society has loosened up so use of an obscenity is not grounds for jail or shunning. In any creative endeavor or situation taut with emotion, swearing is a tool of expression. But have we become too dependent on it in everyday life as well as our entertainment? Maybe before we open our mouths, we should ask ourselves if foul language will add to our expression and understanding.
Is the collective consciousness disappearing, or simply morphing into a destructive force? I wonder this as I wander through my daily life, receiving small dings of infuriation from the growing discourtesy and poor behavior of the people in my city.
Example after example: In the YMCA I patronize, dirty towels litter the locker room, showers and steam bath, despite signs reminding people to pick up after themselves. . .following blizzards, an increasing percentage of residents fail to shovel their walks, notwithstanding city ordinances that require this as well as the danger and inconvenience to the elderly, handicapped, and parents burdened with babies. . .doggies dump hither and yon (usually on my lawn) although both common courtesy and laws push owner pick-ups.
The collective consciousness is a set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes between members of a group as large as a nation or as small as a clique in a school. Often unwritten and unspoken, the collective consciousness can convey cultural values, unify people, and focus efforts and activities toward a goal, even if no one can say what that is. While some, especially the touchie-feeling philosophers among us, may think the collective consciousness is on the upswing, what with the internet, instant messaging, smart phones, and all for the good, I beg to differ.
There’s no denying collective consciousness may be destructive or bad. It might consist of a rush to erroneous judgment, crucifying a suspect in murder who turns out to be blameless. Or it may be the opposite, like those who sympathized with Lance Armstrong’s battle to maintain his innocence, only to learn he was guilty all along. It can be as petty and stupid as a mass vote for a reality show competitor (whether that person’s despicable or admirable).
When it comes to practical application of collective consciousness, the simpler the concept, the better. The bigger the group, frequently the lower the common denominator to reach its members. That master of mass movements, Hitler, said, “All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.” As for propaganda, he felt the larger the group you’re trying to influence, the simpler the messages should be.
The dichotomy of today’s technology is that movements along and within it are massive: millions following a Tweeter, billions signing up to win a sweepstakes, thousands searching for the same job. At the same time, its focus is minute; you can create an in-group of two or three, even fewer if you’re dealing with your own fantasy. So can we achieve individual accountability at the same time we push collective responsibility?
But enough theorizing. What I really want to know is how to get people to pick up their towels, shovel their walks, and collect their doggy droppings. Or does the new collective consciousness, apparently based on “who gives a damn” and “I can’t be bothered” and “I don’t care if other people are inconvenienced” promise to triumph?