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The Failure of Will Alone -- Writer's Poke #448

Does failure result solely from the lack of will to succeed? That’s a rather provocative question, and to fully understand what it means, perhaps it would be a good idea to examine a few examples. Let’s just brainstorm and randomly see what develops.

1. The War on Drugs. Pretty much a failure, right? Why? Too much money in the drug trade; too much consumer demand for illegal drugs.

2. The War on Terrorism. Failure? The use of force exhibited in Boston after the Marathon bombings was impressive, but the lack of intelligence needed to prevent the bombing from occurring in the first place is less than impressive.

3. The War on Poverty. “If people are poor, then they should working harder and do something about it. It’s not my problem.” The lack of success resulted from the inability to overcome an entrenched attitude. 

We like to declare war on problems. No one ever declares peace on problems. “War” indicates we mean business, but unfortunately metaphorical wars lack set-piece battles. The theory behind the set-piece battle is that two sides confront each other directly, and the side left standing is the victor. I’m not sure such set-piece battles have existed in reality since Roman times; regardless, set-piece battles certainly aren’t possible against societal problems.

Although we’d like to fight the battle once, declare victory, and go on with our lives, that’s not the way it works. In my own life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished to fix my car once and have it fixed forever. Or, when I go buy groceries, how I secretly wish that my fridge and kitchen cabinets will stay stocked from now through the rest of eternity. My will for the fulfillment of such fantasies is strong, but the reality of life doesn’t seem to care about how strong my will might happen to be.

If the will to succeed is fighting a war, it’s actually fighting a war against reality. As far as I can tell, reality always triumphs over fantasy. The desire to live in fantasy is strong, even understandable, but the truth of reality always outlasts any siege of fantasy.

Success, then, has nothing to do with will. Rather, it has to do with acceptance. Accepting reality is the first key to success. Trying to will reality to be different only results in the failure of fantasy.

How can problems best be accepted and addressed in a realistic manner? Why do we often insist on engaging in fantasy battles destined to fail?

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced” – Soren Kierkegaard 


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