By Khadjiah Johnson
“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of Equivalent Exchange.”
The struggle to find your balance can prove to be a difficult one. When you lose your balance and fall on ice, it’s not as hard as falling on concrete. But balancing on ice is a bit tougher than balancing on concrete, right? When you can adapt and master the thing that’s tougher, that’s a talent. That’s perseverance.
The Elric brothers of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood show us that failing is not the end. Failing serves as an indicator of earned knowledge and a step toward mastery. When Edward and Alphonse fail at resurrecting their mother, they are exposed to a truth that shakes them to their core.
Imagine working day and night to achieve what others claim to be impossible. Then, when you finally reach the last stage, completely certain of your success, everything flips on its head. As I watched the Elric brothers succeed in spite of their challenges, I was reminded just how much this show can teach us about always moving forward through the knowledge of Equivalent Exchange.
Whether you offer up time, money or an intangible object, what you receive may not be what was demanded, but there is beauty behind that failure.
A test for a small town
“He said if I prayed it would happen and hope is all I had left, what am I supposed to believe in now?”
In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the small town of Liore is tested in their faith for a priest, Father Cornello. Even Rose, a young girl in the series, was enamored by his teachings and what they could offer her. It was heartwarming at first, seeing how love pushed Rose to move past her limits in order to be reunited with her deceased boyfriend.
When Edward performed alchemy without a transmutation circle, many of Liore’s citizens couldn’t understand it because they were only exposed to one person with that kind of ability. Slowly but surely, we saw the breakdown of faith in a small town that places their trust in an apparent miracle worker that fulfilled their every desire.
By the time the Elric brothers revealed the truth about this faith and the corruption of Father Cornello, there was an uproar. For many, their life seemed like a lie. They wasted their time. They failed.
When someone’s faith is tested, everything they think they know changes.
I learned about this blind faith and failure when I started setting intangible resolutions for myself. These weren’t things I could control, yet I was holding myself accountable. The intention was good, but the endgame was always failure. I learned from it.
Success comes through understanding the big picture and realizing that failure is part of the process, not the end of the process. For Rose and Liore, failure may have hurt them, but it showed them a new path and a way forward.
A test for the brothers
“You have to figure it out. Stand up and walk. Keep moving forward. You’ve got two good legs, so get up and use them. You’re strong enough to make your own path.”
The Elric brothers fail countless times throughout the series. When they lose their bodies, lose friends or learn the truth behind the Philosopher’s Stone, they could have easily given up in their pursuits.
But the impact of losing what they held dear didn’t deter them from learning alchemy, and they continued on the path to restore their bodies. It was these challenges that opened their eyes and revealed what it took to achieve their goal.
We often look at our failures as something that can destroy us, not realizing the opportunity they provide. One of the most important things we should learn is how to act in times of failure, and not to dwell on what’s already happened. Acknowledgment of this fall is just as important as what comes next.
Edward and Alphonse were consistently studying alchemy. They scoured libraries piecing conspiracies together, often for days at a time. They kept challenging what they knew to apply it to their knowledge of the homunculus theories. If they failed? Well, they just got back up.
Using their wit, power and the help of their friends, they were able to reveal classified messages, hidden locations and uncover secret villains just by keeping their minds open and deciding that they were going to push further, even if that meant sacrificing more of themselves to save others.
A test for ourselves
“I know if I try my hardest, I’ll be rewarded. And I believe that applies to all of us. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you work hard, it pays off.”
It’s important to remember that when it comes to failure, leaning on your support system is a key to success. Trying to rely on yourself as life tries to pile on will only burn you out. Edward and Alphonse had Winry, Colonel Mustang, Ling and others to take care of them when they were pushing themselves too hard.
When Alphonse got frustrated with his brother, Winry was there to console both of them. She was their personal mechanic and their backbone when they no longer had the emotional energy to feel. That’s a lot to carry.
To truly grow from our failure, we have to find those people in our own lives.
“Nothing’s perfect, the world’s not perfect, but it’s there for us, trying the best it can. That’s what makes it so damn beautiful.”
Learning how to push past failure is about understanding that life is full of setbacks, but that the right thing to do is move forward anyway. Some falls might prove to be harder than others and some surfaces might be harder to balance yourself on, but growth is the act of rising up and adapting in spite of your failure.
The Elric Brothers serve as a song to the power of failure. Throughout Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, we see them learn from their mistakes, push beyond even when their faith is wavering, lean on their friends and utilize their surroundings to trek forward. There’s power in that.
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