Persistence. Determination. Grit. Fortitude. Tenacity. “Keep on keeping on”.
These words are bandied about by motivational speakers and good-hearted teachers. They are meant to inspire and encourage, to cajole and prod workers and students in their collective pursuit of that most ethereal of platitudes: fulfilling their vision, or dream, of which they hope their life will consist.
As much as it pains me to write the following expression (I am a fastidious adherer to the notion that modern life is no different or difficult – in the important matters – than any other era), I find no other words that would be as readily accepted by the reader as this:
Now More Than Ever.
Now more than ever, our modern generation needs a healthy dose of perseverance.
I have the distinct and genuine honor of instructing college students. To say that I love this opportunity is an understatement. I believe it to be one of the greatest vocations available to mankind, and I approach it with equal measures of humility, preparation and gratitude.
As a teacher, I have observed an excising of the character trait of fortitude from the body politic. Not that young people have ever had a reputation for having a pit-bull-jawed wrestling of their ambition until it surrenders in glorious culmination. But they no longer have the example of their elders to illuminate the pathway forward. There are many areas in which integrity and determination have begun eroding in our culture, (seems as though today a “severe consequence” for a moral failing consists of a forced apology only after all lies to cover it up have been exposed) but the three below are illustrative:
Divorce One hundred years ago, the US Divorce rate was 9-10%. (http://divorce.lovetoknow.com/Historical_Divorce_Rate_Statistics)
In the late 1960’s, no-fault divorce became widespread, and the divorce rate rocketed from the mid-20% range to 52% by 1980. A second generation of American young people has come of age with the understanding that if a relationship is “too hard” or if they “don’t feel in love anymore”, well, just try it with someone else. I realize there are valid occasions for divorce. I began my legal career as an associate attorney with a family law firm. I haven’t seen everything by way of troubled domestic relations, but I’ve seen more than most. And our cultural unwillingness to persevere is manifest in perhaps no greater or negative way than in the widespread and free-wheeling dissolution of marriage.
Internet Information A second area in which our collective tenacity has been blunted is the marvelous innovation of the World Wide Web. In my day, besides walking uphill through a blizzard to get to school, research consisted of multiple volumes strewn across a table in the library and hours of digging – tunneling is more like it – to find some nuggets of informational gold that I could use to support my paper. Today, research amounts to going to the second page of a Google search. As a relentlessly curiously learner, I love the access to information granted by the Internet. But, like much in life, without work, that information is easy come, easy go. It is fleetingly acknowledged, just long enough to cut and paste into an assignment. A week or at most, a month later, my students can barely recall the topic of the paper, let alone its content. I fear the ease by which we gather data is crippling the intellectual dexterity of our next generation. We are plenty more creative, it’s true, but creativity is not intrinsically constructive.
Every Kid Gets a Trophy Perhaps the greatest disservice foisted upon my beloved pupils is the “Every Kid Gets a Trophy” syndrome. This preposterous social epidemic was first noticed (at least by me) in the early 1990’s. Essentially, it teaches children the opposite of what they perceive and instinctively know, which is the reality that some people are better at a sport, reading, math, etc., than others. In our warped sense of “equality” we acknowledge only effort and not achievement. I’m fine with 5-year-olds running around the bases regardless of whether they hit the ball, but every little kid I’ve known, by the age of 7, wants to keep score. We’ve gradually watered down every incentive for competition, and in so doing, we frustrate those who have determination and we fail to instill it in those who don’t.
Sometimes, hanging on and pushing through hardship is the only essential trait for accomplishment. Sometimes, lots of times, a person needs to be told to simply be the last man standing.
Survival often precedes success.
I read the following passage from Joel Miller’s book, The Revolutionary Paul Revere, the other day and it made me wonder if modern America would have come into being if modern Americans had been the ones pioneering and revolting against the unjust taxation of King George and the British Parliament. The following excerpt tells of the common plague of smallpox during the 1700’s. In this passage, it’s describing the city of Boston in the late 1760’s.
“…In a matter of weeks, the disease (smallpox) flared like the Harvard fire, and a third of the residents fled the city (Boston). The dead stacked up so fast that the selectmen now ordered the church sextons and gravediggers to round up the corpses and bury them without the usual Solemnities of a Funeral…”
The founders of this nation were simply more willing than the British to be The Last Men & Women Standing. Even when ravaged by disease, with neighbors on all sides falling by the wayside, the remaining among the living remained determined to fight to the end. The ability to get back up and fight once more paved the way for all of us to live in the greatest nation, in an extraordinary day. Take note, young and old alike. Pick up your tools. Dust off your dream. Fight once more.
Determine this day simply that you will be the Last Man Standing.