Cross Talk : Redefining success by Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

Cross Talk : Redefining success by Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

If failure is the pillar of success, success is also the pillar of failure. Alexander the Great conquered the world at 26 and he was never defeated in a war. But he lost his friends, antagonised his own wife and may have been victim of a conspiracy leading to his death, although recorded history says he died in a weakened condition suffering from fever.

Alexander had alienated his men with his ambition. Ptolemy, one of his generals, eloquently explained how it happened. The dreamers exhaust others, he said, and they must be killed before the blasts of their dreams kill others.

Alexander’s generals fought over his dead body and divided his empire amongst them. One of them executed Alexander’s mother Olympus, poisoned his wife Roxan and obliterated his bloodline by killing his thirteen year old son.

Alexander had great visions; he wanted to mix the races, create a "global village" of his time, and remove the differences between the Greeks and the barbarians. In the movie "Alexander" directed by Oliver Stone, Anthony Hopkins plays the role of an old and decrepit Ptolemy, who argues that the failures of Alexander towered over the successes of other men.

In so much as greatness is destiny, what is success? Is it success to be able to do what one does? One month short of 33 years, Alexander died leaving a vulnerable empire and a vulnerable family, while his generals lived to rule their respective kingdoms and enjoyed the luxury and comfort of their long lives. Are successful men always great? Are great men always successful?

There are men and women in history who died in pursuit of noble cause. The martyrs of our language movement and liberation war gave their lives, but they didn’t live to enjoy the fruits of their struggles. Again, there were tyrants who oppressed others and lived their full lives until they were killed in political upheavals or died natural deaths. Comparing these lives, who can tell who was successful and who has failed?

Success comes from the concept of task. People complete projects and success is when they achieve its goals. Success is result oriented, which means different things to different people. For the hunter success is when he hunts the rabbit. For the rabbit success is when it runs from the hunter. There are others whose success is to hunt with the hunter and run with the rabbit.

But an outcome-driven definition of success is dreadful. Hitler was able to send millions of Jews to the gas chamber. Stalin was able to slaughter many of his countrymen. In 1971, Pakistanis raped and killed countless people in this country.

Taking a recent example, the Americans invaded Iraq six years ago. If the can-do philosophy is the basis of success, then all of these atrocities should be successful events.

Delivery on target, therefore, doesn’t always mean success. Neither does "making it," which means doing something at any cost. If that wasn’t true, then the avenger would seek his success in revenge, the traitor in betraying his country, and the killer in taking the life of his victim. If that wasn’t true, then we have put many successful people behind bars, who have successfully plundered this country.

It was the German poet, Goethe, who had said that the purpose of life was life itself, not a result of life. Yet like everything else, we have learned to measure our lives, a cost-benefit analysis, and sort of a return on investment, something like input-output comparison, matching each living moment with material gains.

When Alexander came to India, it irked him when he saw that his men had indulged in material interests. He appealed to them that the purpose of his conquest wasn’t to accumulate wealth and acquire territory, but to create harmony amongst the human race.

There are times when success and failure are hard to tell. In 1948, the Nobel Prize in Physiology went to the Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Muller for his work in developing DDT, which seemed at the time to give promise of delivering the world from malaria and typhus. Fourteen years later it would be found out that DDT flowed into the food chain, destroyed insect and bird life, and caused cancer and genetic damages in humans. President Kennedy ordered his Science Advisory Committee to examine the issues against DDT and Richard Nixon banned the compound.

When Englishman Patrick Blackett received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1948, he drew contrast between success and failure in an impassioned acceptance speech. "The world today is facing the great problem of how to avoid a catastrophe made possible by the work of so many Nobel Prizemen in Physics," he said.

We are living in a time when natural calamities have quadrupled in matter of decades. The scientific inventions and the technological wonders of earlier eras are wreaking havocs on the world. The sum total of successes is proving to be failure. That is the secret of every civilization. Despite the conquests, discoveries and expeditions of men, it declines and diminishes and then comes to an end. If anything, success has always pushed man to his extinction.

It was the success of the Neanderthals which wiped out the Homo Erectus and the Neanderthals abruptly vanished when they couldn’t compete with the Homo sapiens.

The unmistakable tragedy of success is that it displaces others and consigns them to failure. Life walks in the shadow of death. So does success in the shadow of failure. Some lives are lost in miscarriage, others don’t live too long. Many never get anything, others lose and find again and again. Behind every success there may be many failures. Behind every failure there may be many a success.

Time has come for mankind to take another look at success. It’s not victory, mission accomplished or job well done. It’s not fame and glory and a lasting place in memory and history. Success is when what one does is good for many, or at least doesn’t hurt others. Success is when a child is born, when crops grow, rivers flow and trees are laden with fruits. Success is when people care and they share, fragrance of flowers fill the air.

Robert Louis Stevenson writes that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive and the true success is to labour. Modern definition of success puts emphasis on arrival. Everybody wants to go ahead of others. What falls behind is one and only journey, which has no next time.

Greatness is when one is accomplished in the journey. Success is when one is accomplished in arrival.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a banker | News Source The Daily Star

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