An unhealthy fear of failure

A reflection on how some of our politicians are failing their constituents

An unhealthy fear of failure


ife is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat. A wise man fights to win, but he is twice a fool who has no plan for possible defeat. Victory is sweeter when you’ve known defeat.

Fear of defeat is a pathological symptom for a party operating in a democratic realm. In power politics in a democratic set-up, there is always a chance to win or lose.

It is imperative to accept defeat with grace. Such an attitude affords an opportunity to evolve. This is something many of our politicians need to come to terms with. One of the reasons why it’s so difficult to accept defeat is the false beliefs that surround it.

An unhealthy fear of failure

One of these is that if you don’t achieve something, you’ve failed. The truth is that there’s a big difference between being defeated and failing. Accepting defeat is the first step, learning from it the second and applying the tough lessons so learned the third in going forward.

Where there is persistence and dedication, the losses are likely to become less frequent. People often learn more from their losses than their wins. These should therefore be looked at as opportunities rather than blemishes. A defeat offers us the opportunity to strengthen our “success muscles” by working with the resistance it creates. A person who cannot accept defeat is not proud, but stubborn and self-centred. Psychologists suggest that defeat as a state of mind; no one is really defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.

Defeat in any effort, including in the political arena, is temporary. Its fallout is an urge for the contestants to exert greater effort to achieve the intended goal. Defeat is an indicator that something one is doing is wrong. It is a path leading to success and truth.

Bruce Lee defined defeat not as a mistake or failure but as an attitude of giving up or a depressive attitude, a loss of energy. People who display a “grandiose narcissism,” or feelings of superiority or dominance, struggle to accept or comprehend defeat, says personality psychologist Evita March.

A key thing that ‘defeat’ tends to teach people is focus. One can learn to balance one’s thoughts and calm one’s mind so that one is better able to focus. While this is something one learns over the course of time, it’s definitely something that can help one grow and push past the things that once hold one down.

The parties in power must understand that if they are defeated in the forthcoming elections, they will be losing only a battle not the war. With better strategy, proper groundwork and news approaches, they will always have the chance to bounce back.

The parties in power must understand that if they are defeated in the forthcoming elections, they would be losing a battle, not the war. With a better strategy, proper groundwork and new approaches, they will always have the chance to bounce back. 

What needs to be emphasised here is that they must face the rival on the political turf, rather than seeking a technical knock-out that will also jeopardise their own political fortunes.

The old guard are tested and tried and may no longer have anything worthwhile to offer. The new leaders in the parties may have to re-invent themselves and their political parties in radical ways. Not only that, they may also have to distance themselves from the political legacies of the preceding generation. They will need a new political focus and a set of new techniques to make their political ideology amenable to the electorate. It is important that so far some of them have not tasted defeat.

The experience of defeat is absolutely essential for developing a measure of political foresight and maturity. Being brought up in a protected ambience does not cultivate the ability to forge linkages with the people at large. As a consequence, we don’t hear them talking about their agenda for the alleviation of the masses’ problems and their political discourse is highly personalised rather than inclusive.

The new leaders must pick up the courage to contest the elections and if they lose, they should accept the defeat with good grace. By doing so, they can add something valuable to our political ethos.

Running away from elections for fear of defeat is extremely perilous not only for the state but also for their long-term political careers. In South Asian politics, courage and foresight are inculcated through extensive reading of history and learning from the experience of other leaders in similar situations.

The new leaders must embrace these tools. They should canvass for civilianising the governance structures and reinvigoration of the manufacturing sector. They should work to bring about a paradigm shift from rentier economy mostly centering on the real estate and come up with an egalitarian agenda. The execution of such an agenda will need courage, bravado and hard work.

Facing adversity with courage and introspecting about the inadequacies is the only constructive way forward.

Seeking support from extra-political actors against one’s political opponents is unethical and a sign of diffidence. All politicians must focus on their electoral support base and not hobnob with other forces.

The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

An unhealthy fear of failure