Sweet Lemons

Do you know the fable behind the phrase “sour grapes?” It’s not long – the gist is just that a fox tries to get some grapes, but can’t reach them. So he gives up and to keep himself from feeling bad about it, goes “eh, they were probably sour anyway” despite having no evidence of that. So that’s the meaning of the phrase – you say “sour grapes” when someone fails at something but then immaturely dismisses that thing as not worth getting anyway.

That is what it is, people do it, and obviously if it’s a common enough part of human nature to have a whole fable written about it you probably aren’t changing it anytime soon. Try not to do it yourself. But that’s not the lesson today.

Today, I want to talk about a complimentary phenomenon, which I see more and more of every day. Some people fail at something and say, “well, the success would have sucked for some reason anyway,” and that’s sour grapes. But more and more people are instead failing at something and saying “eh, the failure wasn’t really a failure and it was actually good.” So I’m calling this “sweet lemons,” – if you thought the grapes were sweet enough that you wanted them, failing to get them might cause you to declare them sour. If instead you bit into a lemon thinking it was going to be sweet, you might try to downplay your mistake by claiming the lemon actually was sweet.

Now, I want to be clear. I’m not referring to the incidences of people saying, “I failed at this, and that’s okay, because failure is part of life and I learned something and I’ll try again.” No, that’s obviously a good thing.

I’m talking about incidences where someone fails at something and then to both avoid the personal shame of failure and protect themselves from having to try again say: “the failure state was what I wanted all along, and is actually better, and so I’m going to wear the failure as a badge of honor.”

It’s a strange thing to witness. There’s no shame in failure by itself. But some people believe there is, and so to protect their fragile egos from it they force themselves to display pride in it. That’s easier, of course, than doing what’s actually required to avoid the shame of failure – learn, try again, and succeed.

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