The model that society is choosing to manage risk is the null model where risk is eradicated (as discussed in the previous post on this subject) leaving no risk left to manage - hence a null model. This null model selection also appears in other areas and especially (at least for the subject of this post) in the area of failure. Failure, if we wish, could be a synonym for risk. Or something. Maybe. But anyway, that is beside the point. For the purposes of this post they are similar and I stick by that.

There have long been conversations amongst parents about how primary schools, in particular, do not allow competitive sports. In my own primary school many, many years ago we had sports days where you had winners and losers. Kids cried, felt a sense of failure. Parents then dealt with it. After all, that is what they are paid for. This conversation regularly appears in the media as being a prime reason why British sports teams don’t win anything anymore. Because our children are not taught to compete. It’s why we always lose to Australia …. errr!

(Actually, Australia lost because they forgot the first rule of competition - always respect the abilities of you opponent)

The competition angle I think has a deal of validity but that is not what I am here to think about. I am here to think about the effect on our children of removing from their life the opportunity to fail. It is only through failing that we truly learn something at a deep level (rote learning does not impart a deep understanding of something - only failure and then success can do that). Children are programmed to learn through failure, learn through trial and error. You only have to marvel at how a small child can sit at a computer and see how a few hours later they are browsing the web. What is more instructive though is to watch how they do it. It starts by watching, then some random clicking and, at the start, almost continual failure until a small success kicks off the positive feedback loop and off they go. Rather like evolution don’t you think?

It may be argued that this is a different sort of failure but I am not sure it is. In sport it is only through failing that one understands how one can get better and (more importantly) what other people are doing that can be copied and learned from. Moreover, kids need at an early age to start dealing with this sort of failure - to understand that failure is not catastrophic but an opportunity to learn and to improve and, most importantly of all, to become all that you can be. And if you don’t learn how to deal with failure as a kid how are you going to deal with it as an adult?

Two quotes to finish from Homer Simpson:

You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is ‘never try’.

The second one I can’t find reference to so can’t supply the quote verbatim. Homer is reading a book - he finds that on the last page the hero dies. He doesn’t want to upset Lisa so he changes the ending. As he leaves the bedroom he says something like:

Ah Lisa. Now she doesn’t have to learn how to deal with death until someone close to her dies.