Failure: The Ultimate Arab Taboo

[Cue show’s title music]
The silhouettes of a group of overweight people walking towards you appear on the screen.
The silhouettes start becoming clearer and we see the group of contestants.
The name of the show flashes on the screen.
“The Biggest Loser”
(A show where a group of overweight people are challenged to lose weight, and where the person who loses the most weight, hence the title “The Biggest Loser”, at the end of the show is the winner of a hefty cash prize.)

[Fast forward to the Arab world]
As with a bunch of other reality tv shows or game shows that find some level of success elsewhere in the world, some Arab channel secures the rights to introduce that show in the Arab world.
In the case of this show, it is MBC that introduces the show in the region, but here’s the twist, the name of the show is changed, it becomes:
“The Biggest Winner”

Now, this might be quite a subtle change, but I think it’s just a tiny example, a telling sign of a bigger problem we have in the Arab world: the fear of losing, the taboo of being associated with failure in any way.

In this case, even though the person who would get the title of “The Biggest Loser” would actually be the winner of the show, and would walk away with a really nice cash prize, MBC judged, and maybe rightfully so, that using the word “Loser” in the title would turn people off from being part of the show (even though the same TV station aired the original show too with its original title before producing the local version).

This fear of failure is ingrained in our Arab culture; Failure is regarded as the end; a burning mark, a label that will be associated with the person for the rest of his life. The society looks differently at people who have failed, it looks down on them in some way; even people whose accomplishments in life never amounted to much think they are better than people who have failed.

Yes, in our culture, whether we like to admit it or not, it’s regarded as better to sit around doing nothing, never try and never officially fail than to actually go out, take on a challenge, try and fail.

This is a fear that is imprinted in the back of most people’s minds, holding them back from going out there, trying new things, experimenting with new projects, overcoming boundaries, and fulfilling their full potential along the way.

No, everyone wants to be a winner, and they want to win from the first time; it’s either they have that, or they’d rather play it safe, and just hover around in life not taking any risks, letting their great ideas and ambitions wither and die, and not really accomplishing any of the things they really want to and can if they just tried.

But obviously, things don’t work that way, not everyone can win from the first time, not everything will work from the first time, we know it by nature, and we’ve witnessed it in events big and small throughout our lives. Count the numbers of times we stumbled before we could walk, the number of times we fell before we could ride our bikes, the number of mistakes we made that we regretted and swore we’d never do again …etc. It’s in our nature to make mistakes, to have these little failures here and there, in order to learn, get better and build up to our bigger wins.

It’s just that at some point in our lives, we were taught, against our instincts, that it was very very bad for us to fail; that no matter what happens, we should make sure we never fail; that people who fail are losers and will always be losers.

But that’s so wrong; we have to stop looking at failure as just the end; it is an end of something that didn’t work, there’s no doubt about it; but it’s also the start of what comes after it, the start of something new where you can apply all the lessons you’ve learned from previous experiences, and build towards something better and bigger, and eventually succeed.

A great quote by Irish writer Samuel Beckett about this is:
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

And that’s pretty much how things go, we try, we fail, we try again, and we keep going, getting better, until we succeed and win; and then all those little failures along the way amount to nothing but part of a bigger success story.

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