The design of a superior kind of human being – healthier, stronger, smarter, more handsome, more enduring – seems to be in the works…the promise of continual human progress and improvement is alluring. But there is a danger there, too — that in this more perfect future, failure will become obsolete.
So, allow me to make a case for the importance of failure. Failure is significant for several reasons. I’d like to discuss three of them.
Failure allows us to see our existence in its naked condition.
…we tend to see the world as a solid, reliable, even indestructible place…To experience failure is to start seeing the cracks in the fabric of being..[it]…turns out to be a blessing in disguise…this lurking, constant threat that should make us aware of the extraordinariness of our being: the miracle that we exist at all…Most of us (the most self-aware or enlightened excepted) suffer chronically from a poor adjustment to existence; we compulsively fancy ourselves much more important than we are and behave as though the world exists only for our sake…Failure could be a medicine against such arrogance and hubris, as it often brings humility.
Our capacity to fail is essential to what we are.
It is crucial that we remain fundamentally imperfect, incomplete, erring creatures; in other words, that there is always a gap left between what we are and what we can be. Whatever human accomplishments there have been in history, they have been possible precisely because of this empty space. …the capacity to fail is something that we should absolutely preserve, no matter what the professional optimists say. Such a thing is worth treasuring, even more so than artistic masterpieces, monuments or other accomplishments. For, in a sense, the capacity to fail is much more important than any individual human achievements: It is that which makes them possible.
We are designed to fail.
No matter how successful our lives turn out to be, how smart, industrious or diligent we are, the same end awaits us all: “biological failure.”…most of us have pretended not to see it… A better model may be Ingmar Bergman’s Antonius Block, from the film “The Seventh Seal.” A knight returning from the Crusades and plunged into crisis of faith, Block is faced with the grand failure in the form of a man. He does not hesitate to engage Death head-on. He doesn’t flee, doesn’t beg for mercy — he just challenges him to a game of chess. Needless to say, he cannot succeed in such a game — no one can — but victory is not the point. You play against the grand, final failure not to win, but to learn how to fail.
Bergman the philosopher [in his classic movie "The Seventh Seal"] teaches us a great lesson... We will all end in failure, but that’s not the most important thing. What really matters is how we fail and what we gain in the process. During the brief time of his game with Death, Antonius Block must have experienced more than he did all his life; without that game he would have lived for nothing. In the end, of course, he loses, but accomplishes something rare. He not only turns failure into an art, but manages to make the art of failing an intimate part of the art of living.