Emperor Norton

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

While on a hop-on hop-off tour of the city of San Fransisco, Zehen learned about Emperor Norton.

Norton was a 19th century Englishman who lost all his money, and subsequently his mental faculties, on Peruvian rice trade. He re-emerged after some years and declared himself as Norton I, Emperor of the United States. He gave imperial proclamations and had eccentric ways of living and appearance. But people humored him. Some treated his words with deference, issued currency in his name.

He died on the streets. Yet, his funeral was attended by 30,000 residents of the city.

What struck Zehen was the ability of SF to celebrate failure. San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge and Transbay tube were built on lines of his imperial proclamations. It was befitting that city that was the nursery for some of the world’s fantastic innovations should also celebrate the failures that line the journey. 

India, on the other hand, had a poor relationship with failure. Failure is demonized. Children are protected from failure and highly reprimanded for every stumble. Not making a relationship/marriage work is looked down upon. Not getting immediate and easy promotions or finding a high paying job is looked down upon. It should change.

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