By Jose Castillo, columnist
New year, new ways to disappoint yourself. It’s nearly three weeks into 2016; have you kept up with your resolutions so far? Do you even remember what they were?
If you’re like me, you’ve not only failed to keep your New Year’s resolutions, but even worked against them. I know at least one of you can say you’ve swiped at Rebecca’s more often than at Marino. Whatever your resolutions may have been, a lot of us can safely say that a majority of resolutions made this year won’t be around by the end of the year, let alone the end of this month.
Resolutions are typically our first instances of disappointment in the New Year (unless of course, you had a pretty regrettable night on New Year’s Eve). Resolutions are taken on in the hopes that this year, we can be better than who we were last year, but they are usually dropped fairly quickly and therefore given a negative connotation. However, this is where resolutions can be the most powerful: they can help us embrace failure.
Like resolutions, failure has a negative connotation, in part due to the value that hard work and merit have among us. From a young age, we are told that anything can be accomplished if we apply ourselves. “Choo choo,” said the little engine that could, and so should you. Hard work and merit are both very important ideas, but what happens is failure is seen as an indicator of a lack of hard work, which plays into the dangerous idea that everything we have in life is simply a consequence of the effort we’ve put forth. Using that logic those who have achieved success have worked hard for it, which completely disregards privilege, the support of others or just pure luck.
When dealing with personal failure, I turn to comedy. Humor tends to not only embrace failure and sadness, but often celebrates it. Actress Carol Burnett once said that comedy is simply “tragedy plus time.” Shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “The Office” and “Peep Show” all deal with characters that constantly miss the mark and can never seem to get a complete grasp on life (and when I say “The Office,” I mean seasons one through six, when Michael was still boss. After that, the show became a prime-time drama that was constantly jumping the shark). Classic characters like George Costanza from the 90’s sitcom Seinfeld, self-proclaimed “Lord of the Idiots,” truly embody the pain of everyday living.
Failure allows us to examine ourselves when we are in a position where we are most uncomfortable. It’s easy to be happy when everything is okay, but why should we be less okay with ourselves when we do not accomplish what we’ve worked toward? Louis C.K., a comedian famous for his self-deprecating humor, explained the consequence of never truly embracing failure during an interview on Conan, saying, “Because we don’t want that first bit of sadness, we push it away with a little phone [texting], or jacking off or food, and you never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die.”
Embracing failure helps us become empathetic toward those who have also had their own shortcomings and realize those people are more than a list of accomplishments, as well as helping us accept that sadness and failure are simply a part of life, just as much as happiness. As Butters from the show South Park said so well, “I’m sad, but at the same time, I’m really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It’s like, it makes me alive, you know? It makes me feel human.”