What is failure?
Some years ago I chatted to a neighbour, and told her about something I’d tried to do, or intended to do (I forget the exact details), but hadn’t quite managed. So I cheerfully said ‘I failed!’
‘Oh no, don’t say that!’ she cried. And I asked why, since it’s what happened. I wondered if it was so unacceptable not to have done whatever it was I hadn’t managed to do, that she had to react like that.
I was really puzzled and needed to investigate why I couldn’t say this. It was what we were talking about, and the circumstances required me to mention the – lack of – result. In the end we had to spend far too much time for my liking discussing the actual word.
To fail. It turned out that for her, failure was such a serious, end-of-the-world word that it upset her deeply. You should never say you failed.
But to me it was merely a word that described that the thing I set out to do wasn’t successful. Lots of things aren’t, and it’s still not the end of the world. No matter which word I used, the level of success remained the same.
She calmed down after a while, realising I wasn’t telling her about the most dreadful thing that ever happened to me; instead simply mentioning a certain lack of success.
It’s sort of interesting, how much – or how little – emotional value people put on one word.