My teacher used often to cite Confucius, who said ‘when the archer misses the target he doesn’t blame the target, he blames himself’. A humorous extension of this is the idea, ‘Yes, I did miss the target, but the target was not worthy of my arrow.’ It can be even further extended: the bad archer whose arrow does not get into the target but sticks into the ground half way there, rushes up to the target, pulls it off, makes a hole in it and drapes it round the arrow. Then he says triumphantly: “Look, I’ve hit the bulls-eye.”
These caricatures illustrate the human weakness of trying to cover up failure by pretending that it has not been failure after all. Instead of striving to attain the goal the self-deceivers adapt the goal to their own-hearted efforts. It is a parallel process to a religious fatalist’s: “We are not meant to succeed.
When Ralph Nader began his campaign in the 1960’s to force the car manufacturers to change some of the death-trap designs, he was at first unsuccessful. But he did not say, ‘the public is too stupid, too selfish, too short-sighted, to listen to me.’ He changed his technique of speaking and writing to meet the various audiences, and became in fact one of the most successful propagandists of the era; the car manufacturers were forced to redesign their cars.
© Trevor Leggett