Wise Words

I have no idea who wrote the following piece, but it strikes me as worthy of wider dissemination than it has had so far. My son sent it to me the other day and said, simply, “it was written by a co-worker.” It strikes me as particularly important given the fact that we are all feeling fed-up with the coronavirus and all that it entails. We simply cannot wait until things go “back to normal” — refusing to admit to ourselves that there may be no return to normal and that the “new normal” will be like nothing we have ever experienced.

In any event, we wallow in self-pity since few of us has ever had to deny ourselves much of what we want. This is, after all, the “Age of Entitlement” not only in the schools but in the homes as well. We buy on plastic and run up our credit cards rather than wait until we have the money in savings. We want what we want when we want it. Period. We simply cannot wait for tomorrow as today is here and we know what we want and there are always ways to get it. Or so we have been taught.

Except in the present case: the virus seems to be in control and we simply sit at home and express our frustration and impatience. We have very little frame of reference since we are ignorant of history and this piece helps to fill in some of the gaps. Some of them.

Maybe we don’t have it that bad?

It’s a mess out there now. Hard to discern between what’s a real threat and what is just simple panic and hysteria. For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900.

On your 14th birthday, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday. 22 million people perish in that war. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until your 20th birthday. 50 million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million.

On your 29th birthday, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, the World GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy.

When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet. And don’t try to catch your breath, because on your 41st birthday, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war.

Smallpox was an epidemic until you were in your 40’s, as it killed 300 million people during your lifetime.

At 50, the Korean War starts. 5 million perish. From your birth, until you are 55, you dealt with the fear of Polio epidemics each summer. You experience friends and family contracting polio and being paralyzed or dying.

At 55, the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for 20 years. 4 million people perish in that conflict. During the Cold War, you lived each day with the fear of nuclear annihilation. On your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, almost ended. When you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends.

Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How did they endure all of that? When you were a kid and didn’t think your 85-year-old grandparent understood how hard school was. Yet they survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an art. Refined and enlightening as time goes on. Let’s try and keep things in perspective. Your parents and grandparents were called on to endure all of the above – You are called on to stay home and sit on your couch.

This too shall pass.

Let’s hope so. In the meantime, let’s also hope we somehow develop the virtue of patience and don’t blindly stumble toward an elusive goal of normalcy before prudence and science tell us it is time.

Learning From Failure

Toward the end of the recent British Open golf tournament (referred to, simply, as “The Open”), Rickie Fowler was chasing Rory McIlroy and actually tied him on the 12th hole during the third round. Later that round, he stumbled a bit, got a couple of bogies while Rory was getting two eagles on the last three holes to finish 6 shots ahead of his closest competitor. Rickie was later interviewed and he was confident that he could play better on the last day of the tournament and had a good chance of winning (which he nearly did).  He had played well to that point and he thought he knew what had gone wrong during those last few holes. He could learn from his mistakes and correct them and would do better, he was sure.

What a novel idea! To think that a person could learn from his mistakes! So many educators who are on the “self-esteem” bandwagon hell-bent to destroy their students’ ability to succeed in a complex world should take note. Failure is not, in itself, a bad thing. It can make us stronger. It’s what we make of it that is important. If the child never learns to fail, pick himself up, dust himself off, and try again he will never be a success in the “real” world. Fowler did just that. In the final round he played beautifully and gave McIlroy a merry chase, losing by only two strokes, thereby assuring himself a coveted place on the Ryder Cup team.

It’s ironic that it is in sports that these lessons can still be learned, not in the classroom where failure is generally regarded as an inherently bad thing. But, again, there are those who would not have the kids keep score in sports so they never fail there either. In a word, there are those among us, parents, coaches, and teachers, who live in a fantasy world where no one fails and everyone feels good about himself regardless of whether those feelings are well-deserved. And those parents, coaches, and teachers think they are preparing the kids to be a success in later life, whereas the opposite is the case. They are preparing those kids to be failures because they will never have failed before and will not have any idea how to deal with it when it comes. And that failure will come, eventually at some point in some form or other, is a certainty.