In his article “The Right to Fail”, William K. Zinsser argues failure is still widely discouraged in America and is perceived as something to be ashamed about. Zinsser argues failure is often the best teacher and while failure is not desirable, it is inevitable if one wants to realize his/her true potential. Zinsser also blames the highly materialistic American society for its negative attitudes towards failure. While there are arguments made by Zinsser which are debatable, the central theme of his article is right on the spot. Failure may not be desirable but it often ends up teaching some of the most valuable lessons of life to us.
Zinsser points out one’s material possessions such as expensive car brands or the brand of the cigarette one smokes, have become one of the tools to measure his success in the world. While I do believe materialism can be a great motivator in life to work hard and is one of the factors why capitalism works better than socialism, I also believe materialism is also one of the weak points of developed societies. The masses often use one’s economic prosperity as a measure of one’s success and it is not easy to resist societal expectations.
Just as a child wants to be perceived as cool in school, an adult also strives to be perceived as successful and material possessions are usually the most physical proof of one’s achievements. These trends may be the reason why few want to go in the professions that may not promise too much wealth but which influence the society’s progress to a great extent in the long term. Such professions include teaching and research. But if we poll out young people, many may prefer to become an actor or a singer because teachers are simply considered not as successful or glamorous as actors or singers by a significant proportion of young people.
Zinsser does seem to imply material possessions do not make one happy as he claims many young volunteers of VISTA appear to be more fulfilled than an average vice-president with a swimming pool. One may argue materialism may not appeal to some but this doesn’t mean material possessions do not make anyone happy. There is a reason people often celebrate with an expensive purchase when they achieve a certain milestone in life. The material possessions do make some people happy because to them material possessions are a proof they have achieved a certain dream. We can accuse such people as shallow but we cannot judge them on happiness level.
Zinsser claims young people have more open attitudes towards failure as compared to their parents and I know this to be true from personal experiences as well. Internet has put information at our fingertips and one of the benefits of internet is the convenience of knowing as much about the people we admire as possible. Technology icons such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are celebrities in their own way and not a single one of these completed college. There are also other examples of college dropouts who now run successful companies. But I still believe most people should go to college because only a minority among us is born to be entrepreneurs and have the courage to deal with multiple episodes of failure. Most of us prefer job security along with high pay and a college degree makes a huge difference in this regard.
Zinsser makes a great argument that failure should not always be seen as an embarrassment or a source of shame in America. He is also right there is too much focus on materialism in America. But I also think failure is generally more acceptable in America than elsewhere in the world though America can certainly improve further. While I don’t see materialism in positive light only, I do believe it can motivate people and it does make some happy.