Language and today

One aspect of living in the middle isn’t just that I wallow in the misery of each side of the political aisle, but also is love listening to the language that these people spew from their mouths.

Here is this today’s phrase: Failure is not an option.

There was a time when the idea of failure wasn’t an issue. There was not some social phobia surrounding the idea of defeat.

For all you word sleuths, just a quick recap–No, “Failure is not an option” was not really said by Gene Kranz during the Apollo 13 mission. When interviewed for the movie, Kranz remarked that when something bad happens, mission control looks at all the options and failure was just not one of them. The script writers left the meeting with the tagline for the movie, and the rest is history.

Some of the greatest people in our collective history accepted failure. They admitted that it would happen. They counted on it, if only to improve them.

I always tried to turn every disaster into opportunity.

John D. Rockefeller


Failure is simply the opportunity to try again, this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford


I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Thomas Edison

As a historian, one of my favorite failures is Abraham Lincoln.

Much has been written about his failures prior to his ascension to the presidency. (Abraham Lincoln Library’s suggested books) He failed in business and on multiple attempts at political office.

My favorite failure of Lincoln’s was his inability to manage his army during the Civil War.

He ran through seven generals before he found the one who would end the war.

I like to think that when Lincoln said,

My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure

He was speaking of one of his generals–the quote above is attributed to Lincoln, but when it was said is unknown.

One thing that he did say was

If General McClellan isn’t going to use his army, I’d like to borrow it for a time

In his own snide way, Lincoln was both admitting his own failure and McClellan’s.

no-failure-zone2We’ve come a long way from the time when men like Lincoln and Edison relished in the world of failure.

There once was a time when “failure is not an option” meant that a person would fail, learn, and succeed. Today, the phrase has been altered. The words remained the same. The speaking of it hasn’t changed. But, the nuance chose a different tone.

Looking around at the society we now live in, failure is not an option means that no one is allowed to fail.

  1. Education: The new norm is that no one student is given a zero for anything. Didn’t do the work? Fine, we’ll give you a fifty percent. No one is allowed to fail. Kids with minimal skills are passed on to the next grade, where, of course, they will not fail–conversely, they will not learn, either.
  2. Real Estate: Right now, the American government is busy bailing out everyone who was dumb, ignorant, or just plain greedy enough to get swept up by the “flipping” houses hobby of the late nineties. Didn’t have the income for a four-hundred-thousand dollar house? Underwater? That’s okay. The government won’t let you fail!
  3. GM, et al: Too Big To Fail.
  4. Government: I don’t care what side of the political aisle you sit on, I’m going to call a spade a frickin’ spade–The government is failing us. But, no one can be a failure. So, we put up with them.
  5. Parenting: Like it or not, we are an enabling society. One of the huge pitfalls in this new parenting–where parents are their children’s friends–is that we shelter the little darlings from failure. Everyone gets a trophy. Everyone gets a blue ribbon. There is no more first place. Everyone gets to be on the team; everyone plays varsity. If something goes “wrong” in our children’s lives, parents come to the rescue.

As the adults in this world bicker about how to improve the future, we neglect the fact that we are damning it.

Somewhere in our collective past, we changed the meaning.

Failure is not an option.

I’d like to think it is.


One thought on “Language and today

  1. You hit the nail right on the head!!!! This whole failing society may be the net result of its failure to confirm it failed to recognize, that it failed scrutinizing itself and its policy of failing to fail those who failed or were bound to fail because they were never given the chance to fail and learn from their failure.

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