Sadness is a healthy default. It is natural to avoid discomfort, to introduce distraction and attempt to bury concerns. But sorrow breeds humility, and humility often yields understanding. It is appropriate that we maintain an acknowledgement of our own fragility, as well as that of our institutions and societies. Just as we often overlook the merits of boredom in fostering creativity, we may consider addressing sadness as a means of betterment.
The Anna Karenina principle is the idea that a single deficiency in any individual or population halts complete success — or brings about complete failure. The latter definition is more applicable in that the principle specifically regards a family dynamic over that of an individual. Nonetheless, the notion of an “Achilles’ heel” in individuals is a present, if not more notable, phenomenon. For now, I will attend to the idea of collective efficiency and melancholy’s application in the development of empathy and humility. This connection between the Anna Karenina principle and the virtue of sorrow may seem vague. One would be forgiven for dismissing the link altogether because of their seemingly distant relationship. Nonetheless I hold that a bridge exists.
In writing this I don’t intend to discredit the necessity of optimism. The hope is to discuss the concept of success and the often-underrepresented notion that sadness can at times, instill the reality of achievement. That is, goals are achievable if the prospective achiever is willing to understand and accept the outcomes. A common means of success is visualization, which implies some degree of optimism. This is appropriate. How is a marathon runner expected to complete a race if there is not a cognitive mechanism to depict such an accomplishment? This represents the first facet of our understanding of success. Given an undertaking, and assuming sufficient preparatory measures are taken, a possible outcome could be complete success. At this point I dissent from the convention of optimism bringing about accomplishment. The second facet of this equation involves complete failure — the visualization of failure as a counterpart to the vision of success.
To imagine failure is not necessarily to create fear of failure, keeping in mind that the fear of not succeeding can be just as strong and at times stronger than that of complete success. Rather than fear of failure, visualizing the worst-case scenario can develop a greater sense of realism, humility and better prepare the mind and heart to recover from and move past possibly disappointing outcomes. Just as a marathon runner will likely not succeed if they cannot picture success, they will not maintain a comprehensive concept of the race and any race they may choose to run in the future if they cannot picture failure. For example, in conceiving a possible forfeit or disqualification, the marathon runner displays their humility and recognition of their own faults. This is an inherently healthy attitude when engaging in competition. In doing so, we accept our discrepancies and allow ourselves to be forgiven should our goals not come to fruition.
Should this hold true, to what end serves the aforementioned Anna Karenina principle derived from Tolstoy’s classic work? I prefer to observe such an idea as a recognition that of all attributes and weaknesses, one deficiency may doom an endeavor to failure. Should this reality be understood, a given person or community will be in the optimal position to maintain grace in victory or defeat.
Eric Roshak is a sophomore majoring in Political Science and Law. Follow Daily Wildcat on Twitter.