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Tattoos on the Heart: Success

Essay Topic:

Gregory Boyle begins chapter eight: “Success with a few questions that seem so simplistic at first glance. What is success and what is failure? What is good and what is bad? Setback or progress? ” (Boyle 167). Taking a few moments to process these questions, one realizes that the question is quite complex and difficult.

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Success has such a subjective definition that it can only be defined by the one who answers the question of “what is success to you? ” and has no universal definition. Specifically with gang members, success in the context of their lives is about personal growth and less about tangible results.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Biblegateway). Their lives have endured much turmoil and through experiences they find what is good and acceptable and perfect to themselves. Individuals may have their own views on success and failures, and these views may be similar or vastly different. Success for anyone, particularly the gang members, is doing the best one can in any given situation. This may be forgiving the killer of your son or deciding to discontinue participation in gang activities.

Although defining success proves to be elusive there are many forms of success that should be embraced with open arms. From personal experiences my definition of success has differed greatly from time to time. This is similar to how success of a gang member is dependent on where they currently happen to be in their lives. On one day success was defined as getting out of bed and staying awake for me, just as how a gang member thinking about changing his life. Getting out of bed is quite an insignificant act on its own, but in that period of my life I was not able to function and this was considered to be quite successful.

A gang member simply thinking about his life may not be a significant act on its own, but when he has dwelled in chaos all of his life, this thought is like a shining light piercing the clouds that hinder him. All of a sudden these insignificant acts take on the form of complete success. On another day success was thriving and excelling in college. Getting out of bed and staying awake was success for me when I was in the midst of a depressive episode, and now success is fully applying myself in college courses.

Simply getting up out of bed compared to excelling in college, one can recognize that these actions differ greatly, but given the circumstances, are both successes. This same philosophy can and ought to be applied to former and current gang members. Consider Stan, he is the co-founder of the Crips street gang and is on death-row for past crimes he has been convicted of. Stan is also the epitome of success. Father Gregory Boyle has said that Stan is “not the person he was 27 years ago, and if he is granted clemency, his impact on kids, who plan their funerals and not their futures, will continue” (Allen).

He has transcended from his previous life and become a resource against his original foundation of gang life. When we acknowledge the past decisions Stan has made and compare those decisions to where he is now, the amount of success found in that comparison is absolutely immense. In any circumstance speaking out against the negative consequences of gang banging is a feat on its own, but in the context of Stan’s life he lived and breathed gang life. Now he is speaking out against gang violence and this is what makes Stan the epitome of success. From where he was to where he is, he is a changed man.

Success is like the silver lining of every cloud. Even in the case of a grieving mother screaming and wailing out of agony when hearing her son has died, success can be found. “All the homies gathered together plotting vengeance… I lean over and whisper to her that Victor is dead. And this time the homies are there to hear… Screams that curdle your insides. The homies didn’t do anything that night” (Boyle 170). No parent should need to bury their children and this enunciation of pain along with proximity to the homies was enough to alter their planned vengeance.

Just like the questions Boyle proposed at the beginning of the chapter; there was difficulty in making a connection between the death of a child and the idea of success. With further evaluation it became evident that success was not in what happened, but what did not happen. It is safe to assume that the majority of people would consider the death of a child a failure, but the majority of people fail to look past this isolated event. The gang members were ready to claim vengeance as theirs and continue the cycle of pain, death, and violence.

But because of a tragedy stricken mother the cycle was broken right then and there. The breaking of this negative downward spiral is a success in its own right. Another mother would not need to receive the news of her son being shot, another confused gang member would not end up in the penitentiary system, and another child would not be left fatherless. Just as every cloud has its silver lining; unfathomable sadness has positive aspects within itself. Mark Torres, S. J. , beloved spiritual guide at Homeboy Industries, says, “We see in the homies what they don’t see in themselves, until they do” (Boyle 178).

The gang members hold within themselves a poisonous shame that corrupts their sense of self. Without a sense of self it is tremendously difficult to move forward and people tend to stay stuck in what they know. Homeboy Industries nurtures these members and provides them with the support and stability to shed that poisonous shame, which allows them to find their sense of self and succeed. Albert Ortega was recently released from prison and says, “I wanted a new way of life. ”(Jordan) This statement alone is success.

Here is a man wanting to change his life for the better and taking actions to acquire that change. In the context of Albert’s life he was a past criminal and the fact that he wanted better for himself is a major step and major success. Not only did he want more, but he took the initiative and seized the opportunity Homeboy Industries offered him. Just as clay can take many forms, so can success. Whether Albert takes the steps to improve his life through education or a grieving mother’s scream sways gang members from pursuing vengeance; these are both successes in differing forms.

As much as how success can be displayed differently through actions; our own views of these actions influence what form of success we may come to the conclusion of. Homeboy Industries is consistently looking for funders to provide resources and help the nonprofit flourish, but funders tend to fund success that can be measured in quantitative values. What have you done and why should we, the funders, pool our resources into your organization? This is one way to view success, but this view is narrow sighted and fails to see so much more of the bigger picture.

This perspective fails to see all the men and women deciding enough is enough and taking steps to better themselves, or the former gang member who wants to better his community. These successes may not be able to be tallied up on paper, but are successes in their own respective form. These people are doing the best they can and bettering themselves given the hand dealt to them. Success has no universal definition and cannot be limited to measurable values. Particularly funders, but everyone should not limit their field of vision by only observing this miniscule idea of success.

On Friday $60,000 to $70,000 worth of equipment was stolen from Homeboy Industries storage, but will not cripple the 3-year-old program. All this burglary did is reverted it back to an older form of graffiti removal–buckets and rollers (Mccartney). The homies working in a graffiti removal unit were utterly disrespected by others and they simply decide to continue doing their job—graffiti removal. “The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself” (Mark Caine). These former gang members were not affected or provoked by these acts.

They were not held captive of their environment, accepted what had happened, and moved forward. Similarly to how success can be displayed and viewed differently, sometimes the simplest acts are the most significant. A typical person losing $70,000 worth of equipment would go on an absolute rampage, but these former gang members faced adversity with resilience and simply picked up where they had to. There is a sense of awe in how such a simple act portrays so much success. The act of continuing to move forward and denying oneself of ruminating is simplistic, but powerful.

Especially given the background of these men and women, this act of continuing just shows how successful they are and how successful they will continue to be. Although success takes on many forms and depends on our own personal views of what is considered successful, the real success is ones acceptance of each other’s actions. From my experiences of getting off of the couch to a crew of former gang members facing adversity with resilience; the idea of success shrouds itself within our own perceptions and prejudices.

Just like the saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so is success. Living in this world we ought to strive for the same level of objectivity that God projects when looking upon us. We cast aside our own perceptions and inherit the perception of God where we can see the whole picture, not just the portion we prefer. After taking a moment to analyze the questions posed at the beginning of chapter eight, it is clear that these questions demonstrate and stress the subjective aspects of success.

When Gregory Boyle included the chapter based on success, he wanted us to get a sample of the different forms that success may present itself in. Regardless of the act that has occurred, we ought to welcome success in its many forms. Success may present itself in the form of a baby taking her first steps or a gang member acknowledging she has a problem. These scenarios may seem different at a first glance, but in the end, all successes are welcomed and celebrated in their own forms.