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Katsukawa Shunsho 勝川 春章:
Man Falling Backward, Startled by a Woman’s Ghost over a River
(c. 1782)

" … because it couldn't."

I came to understand that I previously understood Success backward. It was not as I'd imagined it before I began this dialogue with myself over its nature. I make no firm conclusions, just this observation I must have previously understood backward. I might acknowledge that properly engaged in dialogue often produces this result, which is no conclusive result at all other than to suspect a previous backward understanding. Understanding grew but also created less certainty, an apparent paradox that everyone might notice seems perfectly congruent with their own experience. As a general rule, we do not ever get to the bottom of anything, though we might sometimes misleadingly sense that we're moving in that general direction.

The purpose of dialogue might just as well be this very outcome.
It eviscerates certainty while broadening understanding. One might eventually conclude that understanding naturally means an unavoidable absence of certainty, like knowledge ultimately leads to sharper not knowing, too. One investigates not simply to reinforce pre-existing notions but to undermine them; not, perhaps, to resolve the mystery, but to become more familiar with it and to grow more comfortable with irresolution. Resolution might mean that something essential is missing. We draw no more than preliminary conclusions. Searches only end when we abandon searching, not when we discover The Answer. We come to reinforce the curious notion that no answer exists, just more satisfying questions.

Now that I’ve almost concluded this long investigation into its nature, what is Success? I feel no closer to an answer than when I began asking. I feel much farther away. Success first seems a notion; like most notions, it prefers to avoid rigorous definition. It's more satisfied when accepted without a raft of confirming questions. In this sense, it might be best characterized as a feeling and not one strictly adhering to logic or reasoning. One's Success can undoubtedly seem like another's failure, and vice-versa, of course. Success exclusively follows twisted paths. If one needs a reason, or reason itself, to celebrate, cancel the cake order. It seems a ghost with a very long tail.

The wisest say nothing because they realize nothing definitive can ever be said about anything. We carry on conversations to entertain and distract ourselves from otherwise unsettling perspectives. Our Successes are never permanent, but then neither are our failures. We can afford to be more generous than we ever suspect, so stinginess seems the most unwarranted response to any stimulus. Everything holds the potential to be its opposite unless we insist that it cannot possibly be. Then, we lob off at least half of our potential.

Daniel Webster was no philosopher. He labored at the opposite profession, the one insisting that we seek precision. He declared what words mean, painting his world in blacks and whites. Black-and-white worlds do, indeed, exist. Still, they’re only a beginning of infinite alternatives, parallels and orthogonals, backward and polar opposites, each with some purpose, none exclusive conclusions. I can leave this inquiry satisfied that I never found a conclusion. The dialogue could continue ad infinitum and likely will. I will judge this inquiry Successful not because it will render further examination eternally unnecessary but because it couldn't.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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