THE LONG VIEW: Fear and Failure (20 May 2013)

A few years ago, the filmmaker Bill Duke spoke to an audience at Temple University about his career and offered suggestions for young people interested in the entertainment industry.  One of the highlights of his interaction with the crowd was his response to a question about the most important piece of advice he would offer to someone starting a new project.  Duke responded that the important lesson for anyone pursuing a goal was “to be able to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Duke adapted a famous quote often attributed to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill defined success at the ability to move from one failure to another without losing enthusiasm.  In either context – entertainment or politics – the lesson has missed too many people.  As college and high school students graduate over the next few weeks, they need a constant reminder to never give up on their dreams to build a better world.  Too often, the adults in their lives tell them to be safe and avoid risks in pursuit of their goals.  This premise is the opposite of the promise of America and the resilience Duke and Churchill celebrate.

One major expression of this fear is the repeated admonition to apply to ‘safety schools’ and study fields like business, law, and engineering.  The core of the American dream is the ambition to envision big ideas and build new ways to accomplish them.  Fear of failure only assures that young people will abandon their boldest efforts. This cowardice undermines the spirit of human excellence.

The Brookings Institution released a new book this week on the growth of suburban poverty across the United States over the last decade.  The struggles of millions of American families stems from the failure to provide economic development policies that measure accountability through asset growth of individual households and to maintain school systems that require creativity, engagement, and innovation at every stage of K-12 education.  A partnership between Temple University – Ambler, the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, and growing financial institutions like Continental Bank could rebuild the municipal economies in Cheltenham, Norristown, and Phoenixville.  Beyond resilience and success in these coalitions, young people must know that excellence is the measure of taking more enthusiasm from every setback you encounter.

Dr. WalterGreason is the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the CivilRights Movement in New Jersey.

Author: waltergreason1

Public Figure.

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