Learning from failure and Don Rickles R.I.P.

By Reade Brower | Apr 13, 2017

"The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t’ need its brain anymore, so it eats it. It’s rather like getting tenure.'”

--- Daniel Dennett, philosopher, writer, professor (b. 1942)

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Calling a spade a spade was bread and butter for Don Rickles. He could get away with more than most comedians because he made fun equally of all races, all religions, all sexual preferences; not much was off-limits to Rickles.

When he passed last week at 90 years old, comedians like Jimmy Kimmel wept as they spoke about him because his continual insults somehow transcended the world of “hate.” He insulted someone and they laughed together because the irony was clear – he would only insult you if he liked you. It was not passive-aggressive humor, it was not angry humor, it was not humor that caused divisions – by making light of the world around him, Don Rickles simply made the world better because he made it funny.

When others degrade, like Rickles did, we have a fit; political correctness can go too far and people begin to applaud others who buck it, but for perhaps the wrong reason. What is different is, the backdrop is often mean and steeped in anger, not love.

We need more of what Rickles represented in the world. R.I.P. Don Rickles

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A couple of years ago I witnessed an ugly moment in sportsmanship; it bothers me to this day that I did not know what to do or have the courage to look the person in the eye and at least say “Really?”

The Rockland and Camden basketball rivalry was at its peak and during a late-season game between the two girls’ squads, both unbeaten to date, the Rockland team pulled out the victory on their home court.

Walking out of the gym, a woman in front of me pointed at a young girl, formerly a teammate of her daughter's where she grew up in the Rockland school system, before moving to Camden at the start of high school. This adult called to the young Camden player by name; she was walking off the court with her head down after the tough loss.

The girl looked up and began to prepare to wave when the mother formed the sign of the “L” with her index finger and thumb, thrust it to her forehead, and mouthed the word “loser” in a mean and calculated manner. The young girl, looking perplexed, kept walking; head hanging even lower than before.

I wish I had that moment back. Confrontation is never easy, but without it we don’t learn about ourselves and we do not teach others that their actions have consequences.

A few weeks ago I apologized in this column for jumping to a conclusion without understanding the “rest of the story.” It felt good to be wrong and to confront it. Learning from failure is a great teacher.

Below is an excerpt from a newsletter I got in my email; it is about exactly that.

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“Learning from Failure” by Head of School Laura Gauld in her April newsletter – Hyde School in Bath; written monthly and sent to her students, teachers, and alumni. Laura wrote:

While we strive to reap the rewards from being our best possible self, we often learn the deepest lessons from experiencing our worst and summoning the humility to address the core issues.

Last weekend, our varsity boy’s lacrosse team was excited to begin the season and emotions were high with both the players and the fans assembled at the field. It was clear from the onset that our opponent was more disciplined in their teamwork, and the first half was back and forth between the two teams.

During the game, several of our teammates allowed comments to get to them and the second half saw the Hyde team collapse into poor sportsmanship and frustration. On the sidelines, some of the Hyde fans added to the tension with unacceptable comments.

Regardless of what the other team was saying, Hyde was not Hyde. At the end of the game, it was clear that while we lost the game, we had an even bigger failure in how we handled ourselves.

The next morning, we gathered the entire community to debrief the game. Players, faculty members and students all shared some of the following thoughts:

"I was caught up in my ego and emotions around the game and I am truly sorry."

"I saw some students who were off-track and I didn't say anything."

"I played in Hyde's first lacrosse game and this wasn't who we are as a school."

It was an important moment for everyone to see that we all had a part of what happened and how we could move forward. The Hyde brand is about character and leadership, which assumes a high level of class and sportsmanship.

The next game, the atmosphere was strikingly different. All in all, it was a painful but important lesson.

One of the Biggest Job Parenting Priorities is "Value Success and Failure." It is also important to have the humility to:

  • Admit that you were wrong
  • Apologize where necessary
  • Make it right

While many of our leaders from both political parties in today's society do not always model this, it still rings true. Failure can be an important teacher if we accept the humility to truly look at ourselves. This week, our school went through this exercise and hopefully, will use that learning to strive for our best selves.

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