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Rethinking the "F" Word

I am a little on the competitive side most of the time.  Can't help it.  It is just part of who I am. It can be a great asset or I can be my own worst enemy other times.  Most often a good dose of competition pays off.  When I look at Ivey - I see she might have gotten a little bit of that competitiveness - also when I look at her, especially on the hard days, I see she is a race to be won. 

The downside to being competitive is failure.  I hate to lose.  Personally- there are alot of times when I look at Ivey and hear the defying words from Apollo 13 whispering in my ear, "Failure is not an option."  I feel a battle raging. 

Anyway - I read this article about a year ago and held onto it.  I ran across it again the other day.  Originally when I read the article, I didn't think about Ivey or her battles to be won and lost.  Rather, I thought about our boys.  They were playing sports - wanting to win.  I thought alot about me sitting in the bleachers and how I should let up on my own competitiveness.  Maybe a good dose of loosing might actually be the best thing over the long run-for them.  Maybe not so much -Push, push,, win, win., best, best... 

This time after I read it I thought about life - obstacles- and how many times the boys will fail or fall short of what they want.  How will they handle themselves, will they pick themselves up, dust off and go again with new knowledge, or will they see only barriers and stop?  Knox's understanding, or not understanding, of his sister made all the difference this time.  He is listening to those around him more and more, questioning everyone's views and opinions. 

This is where Ivey comes in.  I can't count the number of times in the last four years that we have been told the words "I am so sorry"  - obviously - for having Ivey and her "issues".  Some see her and they see failure. Particularly now, those who are unfamiliar with her, people in malls, the old woman in the grocery store, they see what was supposed to be a bundle of joy as a something that didn't quite end in the typical expected plans.  Some might say Life failed us or see it as our failure, her failure - God's failure.   She wasn't planned, not the course we thought we wanted or dreamed about - honestly we didn't know she was an option, and so for those who don't know her or us, she must be some symbol of failure. 

Recently Knox asked me why someone apologized to me when they met Ivey. 

That pretty much sums this up.

What do you say to him?  People don't apologize when they meet him...  How do I explain to him that he will have many obstacles placed in his life, some harder than others, some more permanent than others, and he will lose many times, he will fail.  But in the end - he will be successful when he faces his challenges head-on with work and sweat - Or, how do you explain something so complex?  How do I put into words that this life he is leading with his sister is a great success story and that our success may be seen by someone else as failure?  But no matter what, we must stay our course despite how others view us and our life circumstances.  This article resonated something familiar about our boys life - and how we will teach them to handle difficulty, dissappointment and failure.  Most importantly - failure.

Hopefully we are on the right track and "rethinking the F word".

Rethinking the “F” Word

By Dane Peters

The other day, I selected a book from my bookshelf because I wanted to remind myself of the last time I read a selection from it to our elementary and middle school children. The book, The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank (1976), is a collection of funny, yet meaningful stories about families, raising children, and life’s many challenges, written in a way only Erma Bombeck could write. The story I reread was “Ralph Corlis, The Coach Who Played to Lose.” It’s about a father who, after the death of his wife, moved to the suburbs to carve out a new life for his two sons and himself. The most meaningful part for me is when two Little League coaches confront Ralph demanding to know why he coaches his team to lose games. Ralph replies, “It’s hard to explain, but kids go all through their lives learning how to win, but no one ever teaches them how to lose. Just think about it. Most kids don’t know how to handle defeat. They fall apart. It’s important to know how to lose because you do a lot of it when you grow up. You have to have perspective – how to know what is important to lose and what isn’t important.”

My years of experience as a father, educator, and individual have taught me that, in fact, Ralph is right; failure motivates and forces us to get things right. And yet, we work so hard to protect our children from it. What originally drew my attention to the Bombeck story was my last letter to the parents at my school, which focused on the ‘f’ word. In it, I wrote, “One word that would most assuredly not appear on any list (that describes children) and is one of the most helpful character builders for children and adults is “failure”. Unfortunately, we shy away from using that word with children and each other, and yet, it is a word we have to live with our whole lives. For some, failure serves as a roadblock; for others, it is an obstacle to navigate around to a higher ground; and still for others, it provides inspiration to get it right.”

Imagine how life would be without trial-and-error. Sir Ken Robinson – an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation, and human resources, and professor of education – expressed this concept and belief best during his lecture at the 2006 Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference when he said, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Robinson cites Dr. Maria Montessori in his lecture’s bibliography. Coincidentally, in Montessori Today , author Paula Polk Lillard states, it is psychological security, engendered in part by a properly structured environment, which gives children the impulse to try harder to face the unknown, including the unpleasant facts of life. The goal is to help children use their human energies to deal with the failures and disappointments of their lives and not be destroyed by them.”

Last fall, Howard Gardner spoke to the faculty and staff at my school about his theory of multiple intelligences. Rather than focusing on linguistic and quantitative reasoning – the two forms of intelligences most often valued in schools – Gardner posits that human intelligence also includes artistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and kinesthetic intelligences. By placing emphasis on this broad range of intelligences and abilities, he said, we can broaden the scope of how we assess ourselves and our children.

And, by opening up more avenues for approaching and solving problems, we can also help to diffuse our fear of failure. By trying and failing, or trying and succeeding, in the various forms of intelligence, we come to know our strengths and weaknesses and develp a strong, resilient sense of self. In his closing to those assembled, Gardner shared this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Character is more important than intellect.”

In the 2008 winter issue of this magazine, Carol Dweck’s article, “Brainology,” highlighted the value of trial –and-error in child development. Dweck researched the differences in children who have a fixed mindset about intelligence versus those who have a growth mindset. Children with a fixed mindset believe “that intelligence is fixed, that each person has a certain amount and that’s that” while children with a growth mindset “believe that intelligence is a potential that can be realized through learning. As a result, confronting challenges, profiting from mistakes, and persevering in the face of setbacks become ways of getting smarter.” Dweck cleverly tells us that even “Einstein wasn’t Einstein until he put in years of focused hard work.”

The ways in which our children approach challenges and overcome failure determine how successful they will become later on in life. It seems that Ralph Corlis had the right idea. We can’t really win in life if we don’t also learn to lose.


Dora said…
Oh! I love this post!

my suggestion as an answer to your son's question...
"Because sometimes people don't really know what to say in their own set of ignorance or emotions and they just don't understand things like we do. It doesn't make them right or wrong - just like precious Ivey - it just makes them different."

Continued blessings to you.
BTW - I'm thanking you in advance for sharing that article because the parts specific to failure are going in my team's newsletter. I was just thinking a little while ago about what I was going to use and now I know.

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