Teach students to cope with failures
A column on parenting, relationships and stress management
Saul Pereira, Psychological counsellor
THE EXAM results are out, and this is the suicide season. As discussed earlier, these suicides occur primarily because our education system does not teach children how to cope with failure. After dwelling on why failure affects the psyche of students, driving them to suicide, let’s discuss how failure affects, how these effects manifest themselves, and how failure can be coped with.
Shame and guilt are highly associated with failure. Richard McKeon writes in the Basic Works of Aristotle, “Shame may be defined as pain or disturbance in regard to bad things, whether present, past or future, which seem likely to involve us in discredit (often dishonour)… We feel shame at such bad things as we think are disgraceful to ourselves or to those we care for.” Shame is thus the fear of being exposed. Guilt, however, is also a pain due to wrongdoing, but confined to the individual. It is alleviated by communicating with someone to express it or with a person of authority who might, through reprimand, help absolve the person of the offence.
In guilt, the self fails to meet its own standards; in shame, the personal fails to meet others’ expectations. Guilt is the preferred feeling we need to inculcate in children, so they can resolve issues through involvement. Shame, however, seeks privacy, and is therefore fraught with danger in a closed-up mind. The depressed lose confidence in and respect for the self. They then reject themselves and their life by ending it through suicide.
A suicidal person identifies with results instead of process. The attachment to outcomes tends to make the person fixate on goals as an all-or-nothing experience. But people who have used failure as a stepping stone are the ones who focussed on the process, because that is where the steps can be found.
Early puberty and lack of spirituality only add to the kids’ plight
Let us now examine the other important aspect of developing adequate coping mechanisms for failure. Here I must point to an evolutionary ‘development’ in our biology that has contributed to a depleting inability to cope. I am referring to the ‘progress’ of the onset of puberty to a period three-four years earlier: What used to take place at 13-14 years has, over the last 450 years, advanced to a premature age of 9-10.
This is a two-pronged attack and less of a ‘development’. Firstly, it infringes on childhood, offering less time for resolving developmental issues. Secondly, a younger, less-prepared child is launched into adolescence too soon. As a result, children today are afflicted by the illeffects of either unresolved or partially-resolved issues. This means that their ability to cope with the world is inadequate. Add a working mother to the equation, and the kids are bound to suffer from either rejection or abandonment or separation anxiety, or all three. Also, we do not adequately inculcate hope in children. Hope thrives on possibilities. Predictability is eliminated and there is scope for palatable options. Hope is accommodating, motivating, furthering and enriching.
The best contribution to hope lies in the genuine practice of religion and spirituality. Have you noticed that spiritual persons do not contemplate suicide? We have neglected godly worship and values that respect life, and the misguided adolescent is literally groping in the dark due to it, vulnerable to all kinds of unsolicited inputs from equally naïve peers. We owe our youth, who chose to prematurely end life without even starting it, to at least provide succour and timely help and intervention.
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.