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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Triumphant Strangers To Success

Success Is Counted Sweetest

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

 --Emily Dickinson

What is the true essence of success? I'm sure many would believe those people who had experienced the most things normally associated with prosperity and fortune could best understand the concept. We continually celebrate success, encourage it, and frown upon its foe -- defeat. We praise victory and demand achievement after achievement. No matter, the question does remain: "Who is best qualified to understand the impact success can have?" Is all success breading meaningful success?

So, what about those who have experienced little or no success? It just might be that these people who hunger for a rare success might best appreciate its true value and even gain most from the impact of succeeding.

In her poem "Success," Emily Dickinson contends that appreciating a boon requires privation. For example, a poor man who wins the lottery better appreciates his windfall than a millionaire executive who receives a six-figure bonus.We could say, "Of course, what a simple, meaningless statement."

Yet, if we consider the needs of those who work hard to achieve but reap few benefits for their efforts, we understand "success" does not always guarantee a prosperous termination of hard endeavors. Success and failure are both attainments that can teach us valuable lessons.

"Success is counted sweetest 
By those who ne'er succeed. 
To comprehend a nectar 
Requires sorest need."

Failure is inevitable. People gain wisdom from failure they can never acquire from success. The sweetest "nectar" of success comes to those who have persevered long and hard for it, not to those who experience it effortlessly. In "Success," Dickinson uses the word sorest as meaning "greatest." One drop of sweet "nectar" to those in dire need is an immeasurable blessing that may have untold dividends.

"Not one of all the purple host 
Who took the flag to-day 
Can tell the definition, 
So clear, of victory"

Those "purple host" who "took" a flag are the privileged, the "silver spoon" successful. Purple is associated with royalty and riches. Fine clothes such as the robes of kings and emperors have historically been dyed purple. Being born to a royal or privileged family, such a person could never realize how difficult it was to achieve that position because it naturally came to them as a heirloom.
When the privileged "hoist" and display successful positions, they signify their pride in victory. In fact, the act of victory or winning a battle in a war is often symbolized by the act of taking away a flag from an enemy or prominently displaying one's own banner for all to see. Dickinson notes that victors cannot understand the worth of winning as much as those who suffer defeat.

However, in truth, haven't the defeated paid the highest cost while the successful have the temerity to "wave" their egotistical symbols or "Flags" of status celebrating often meaningless, easy victories?

"As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear!"

Those who lack success may feel defeated or near death. Dickinson does not mean the dying man's ears are "forbidden." Instead, she writes what is forbidden to his ears is the sound of success, as he belongs to the side of those who receive little praise for achievement. Isn't it tragic that success often requires the failure of another?

Yet, with his humble perspective, the dying, unsuccessful "warrior" who serenely lies far away from the champion legions can perceive the composition of success better than can the triumphant. The "clear" sounds of triumph of the other side are "distant" literally in being far off and metaphorically in not being part of his experience; defeat is the direct opposite of, or most "distant" from, victory.

Ironically, in the end, the person who is considered the "dying man" may be most successful since he can realize the futility of the "agonizing" warring of others for the meaningless hording of shallow success after success.

Dickinson is very direct with her theme: The person best qualified to evaluate the impact of success is the vanquished rather than the triumphant.

My Addition

It’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success -- but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset. Praising intelligence and ability or bragging about success doesn’t always foster self-esteem and lead to more accomplishment, but it may actually jeopardize any real success.

I have seen so many people who seem defeated and underprivileged grow with a little success. They appreciate winning "for once" and usually feel content with their improvement. Both the defeated and the victor must judge success by personal growth. That means the successful must help those who seldom experience the life-changing experience.

"A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation 
with the bricks others have thrown at him."

--David Brinkley, renowned news anchor and reporter

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