A Philosophy of Failure and Success: Either/Or, or Both/And?
Being a "both/and" kinda guy, I like, at times, to look at polar opposites (such as failure and success) as a combination of the two; a little of both, if you will. Instead of considering one step in the direction of success a failure, I like to consider it a partial success. After all, getting off the dime, so to speak, is perhaps the biggest step toward success. Inertia is overcome, and there is movement forward.
"Ah," but you say, "what of the runner--a marathoner, for example--who does not make it to the finish line? Clearly, he or she has not succeeded in what they started out to do?" Good question, but let me ask you, "Is only reaching the finish line a success, or is each mile the runner runs a partial success?"
More to the point, is not simply showing up at the starting line after months of training and building up stamina to the point where a 26-plus mile-run is within reach a kind of success? And what marathoner who wins a given marathon is not thinking about the next marathon in which he or she will beat their own best time, or beat the record on a regional scale (citywide, countywide, statewide, nationwide), or even beat the worldwide record!
What we humans accomplish in time and space will always be a mixture of past, present, and future. Our past informs our present and our present informs our future, and at no point can one say--accurately, at least--that a success is but a point-in-time accomplishment. After all, how can anyone pinpoint the present? As soon as you think you're in the present, you're instantly looking back on what was the present (thanks, George Carlin!).
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Peter J. Leithart,1 and Charles Williams (a friend of C.S. Lewis) are on the right track, I believe, when they talk about the phenomenon they call, variously and respectively, reciprocal habitation, perichoresis (or reciprocal penetration), and coinherence. In the phenomena of time, space, society, marriage, family, community, religion, and so much more, the whole kit and caboodle may be ONE, but the PARTS cohere in some way and to some extent with the whole. Put differently, there is unity in diversity, diversity in unity, and diversity in autonomy.
Just at the very moment you begin to think of yourself as an autonomous critter--a virtual island, you also begin to realize (if you're honest with yourself and humble) how all the experiences, relationships, teachers, books, relatives (especially parents), failures, and successes have made you what you are today. We may be autonomous in the sense that each human being possesses an "irreducible otherness"2, but by the same token, each of us is indwelt mutually by each other, and that includes the past, the present, and the future. Can an individual ever be truly autonomous? (Well, perhaps only in death!)
What, Then, Inhabits the Middle Ground Between Failure and Success?
Here are some suggestions:
headway toward success
progress away from failure and toward success
a modicum of success
gradations of success
segue to success
the interpenetration of the failures of the past and partial successes of the present
coinherence of failure and success
Take your pick.
Is there a single word for that middle ground? I cannot think of one offhand. That does not mean there isn't one, however! A little help, please!
1 Peter J. Leithart, Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015
2 Ibid., p.46