Corrosive Forces In American Life

While in grade school I received various incentives for maintaining quality grades. My grandmother agreed to pay me for bringing home high marks. A “C” brought the sum of a quarter, a “B” was worth 50 cents, and an “A” earned a dollar. With that, every six weeks turned into payday and every assignment an opportunity to earn something more than a grade.

“One of the corrosive forces,” William Zinsser said, “in American life, I think, is our obsession with the victorious result: the winning Little League team, the high-test score, the record-breaking salary, the sacred bottom line. Coaches who finish first are gods; coaches who finish second are not. Less glamorous gains made under good coaches and good teachers–growth, wisdom, confidence, self-expression, sportsmanship, dealing with failure and loss–aren’t valued because they don’t get a grade.”

Getting good grades is important. Like all the ills plaguing society, bad things are the corruption of good things. Parents love their children, and they encourage them to aim high and work hard. They want the best, so they push and demand excellence. They desire for their kids to live a better life, and mow down all the obstacles in their way like a lawnmower mulching leaves on an early fall lawn.

Society's attempt to prepare the world for the child, instead of preparing the child for the world leaves a generation at a disadvantage. William Zinsser offers a glimmer of hope. He directs our attention to the timeless truth that, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

“We need mavericks and dreamers and dissenters far more than we need junior vice presidents, but we paralyze them by insisting that every step be a step up to the next rung of the ladder. Yet often the only way for boys and girls to find their proper road is to take a hundred side trips, poking out in different directions, faltering, pulling back and starting again.

‘But what if we fail? they ask, whispering the dreaded word across the generation gap to their parents, back in the Establishment. The parents whisper back, ‘Don’t!’

What they should say is: ‘Don’t be afraid to fail.’ Failure isn’t the end of the world. Countless people have had a bout of failure and come out stronger as a result. Many have even come out famous. History is strewn with eminent dropouts, loners who followed their own trail, not worrying about its unexpected twists and turns because they had faith in their own sense of direction. To read their biographies is exhilarating, not only because they beat the system but because their system was better than the one they beat.”

The qualities people need to develop most come while trying their wings. In short, hardship is a formative experience. Most come to appreciate the difficult periods in their lives because they made them who they are.

A major component of life is learning to cope with loss, disappointment, and failure. These three will visit your life with regularity. Much of the growth you and your children experience relates to how you respond to difficulty. Growth you will miss if the world is constantly shaped to your liking and fearful of trying your wings.