In an article in Newsweek (September 12) Julia Baird asks whether, in view of the economic situation in the United States today, our view of failure should be softened. “In a country with a level of unemployment so high that it is likely to determine the outcome of the midterm elections, failure is something many of us are wrestling with right now…. Sure, his career was ebbing, but Willy Loman kept a job for 38 years, he owned his house – he had just made the last mortgage payment – and had a wife and two children. Today he’d be a survivor.”
Today, a millionaire may consider himself a failure for any number of reasons. But using the usual economic and social – not psychological – criteria, the relative number of failures in the U.S. today is substantially larger than it was during the postwar prosperity of 1949 when the tragedy depicted in Death of the Salesman made such a huge impression. One might almost say that today, using these criteria, failing is the norm.
But there are also many amazing success stories. One type of a successful career in today’s world is that of the technological “nerd” who by reason of exceptional brain power reaches the top without having any charisma, or any noticeable “people skills.” An example is Mark Zuckerman, the young tsar of Facebook.
In the world of politics the question to ask is whether reasonable expectations – one’s own and other people’s – are being met. If not, that is a definition of failure. In the case of Obama, at this time most Americans believe he is a failure. It is impossible to know what, deep down, he himself feels.
In Canadian politics the big question is whether Michael Ignatieff will meet his own and his party’s expectations.
The reasons for the current problems of both politicians are quite similar – that their character and background make it hard for them to connect with sufficient numbers of voters.
In politics, surprises are the norm.